Maria McCaffery MBE, chief executive of RenewablesUK, started the session by stressing that while renewables make up five percent of UK energy capacity at present, this is going to grow significantly in the years ahead.
She said there were a great many opportunities as the sector grows, though technical challenges remain to be resolved.
The key challenge would be the issue of connecting through the grid. The UK’s national grid has existed for 75 years and was developed with very highly concentrated generation in mind. Ms McCaffery said this meant there was a lot of reconfiguration needed, and it will have to be much bigger than at present, to accommodate a more geographically diverse source of energy.
Bill McClymont, chief executive of Energetics, set out the some of the activities across energy utilities, drawing attention to the lack of change across the electricity companies in regards to developing the grid.
He stressed that the market as it stands can suffer from inertia, with engineers and developers facing unnecessary delays and inefficiency as they seek to develop projects like housing estates. As a counter to this, he stressed that a growing role for independent connection companies offered a more focused expertise than the large grid operators could offer.
Dr Andrew Wheen of Mott MacDonald then spoke about the progress being made towards the development of smart grids. He said that utilities are all developing “smarts” because “dumb” utilities that were fine in the past simply can’t meet the carbon reduction targets being set out by the EU for the good of the environment.
He said that energy utilities were moving more quickly into smart networks than some utilities. This reflects the opportunity for it to support decarbonisation directly through renewable energy generation from very diverse sources.
The development of smart grid technology was therefore crucial to adjust to a market in which more energy would be pushed back into the grid from areas that traditionally just took energy out.
He added that we are also seeing smart technologies such as the remote management of water networks as a means of tackling leaks more quickly. Smarter metering of gas and water consumption is also starting to develop alongside smart metering of electricity.
Asked about the cost of renewable energy, Ms McCaffery said that the total cost of wind energy, as a premium on household bills, was just £7.50 per year. This was far lower than some of the horror stories that had been told about renewables.
Ms McCaffery also stressed that the UK is now extremely vulnerable to the volatility of supply of fossil fuels as it is now a net importer. As such it was strategically sensible to invest in renewable energy, for which the UK has abundant natural resource.
Bill McClymont was asked if, given the time it would take to reform and upgrade the networks involved, enough is being done to meet demand in the relatively short term. He said that a lot of the evidence demonstrates that real time data for customers can really change behaviour, so as one means of bridging that gap, the UK should progress with smart metering for people’s homes.
Author: Editor Gavin Pearson (firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 202 0255)