Friday, 4 March 2016

UK National Infrastructure Commission call for a "smart power revolution"

Renewable energy dreamers are not content with driving up energy costs, and pricing steel production out of the UK, for example. A new report by UK's National Infrastructure Commission calls for a "smart power revolution". I, personally, don't think there's anything smart about hiking up electricity prices for the poor. They want "smart power principally built around interconnection, storage, and demand flexibility". They shamelessly claim it "could save consumers up to £8bn a year by 2030". If those savings happen, I say they will be based on people using less energy. If you don't spend money you save it! Who knew that?

An important issue I have with this is that productivity in our economy and lifestyles, is intimately dependent on levering energy to do work for us. That's been the case since the industrial revolution began. There have been no paradigm shifts decoupling energy use from economic well-being. Flexible energy sources at home allow us to save time in a host of ways: washing clothes, communicating electronically, preparing food. Energy takes us to work and lets us travel for leisure, to see family and friends or visit most places on Earth.

The first thing that puzzles me about their report was their demand for energy storage. What economic energy storage are we going to put on the grid? More importantly why?

Energy storage, just for the sake of it, is a cost. Of course we already have energy storage. It's called fossil fuel, nuclear power and pumped storage. To this they may want to add: air storage, batteries, capacitors, ...

energy density (kJ/kg)
Uranium80.6 billion
Lithium Ion battery360
Pumped hydro. Water at 100 m dam height (potential energy)1

The only reason people are talking about adding more energy storage to the grid is because of a perceived need to do away with fossil fuels and nuclear power in favour of intermittent, and low power density renewable energies.

What are their specific proposals anyhow?

  1. Interconnectors to Norway and Iceland. Two countries with populations of 5.1 million and 0.32 million. Britain's population is 12 times greater, so these interconnectors are hardly likely to make much difference.
  2. More remarkable is their call for:
    "Storage - technology is accelerating at a remarkable speed. The UK could become a world leader in making use of these technologies, not through subsidies, but by ensuring that better regulation creates a level playing field between generation and storage."

    Britain is now spending a fair bit, tens of millions on energy storage R&D. The USA has been spending far more than that for a decade. There have been no big breakthroughs to suggest grid-scale storage is economically sensible. The biggest hindrance holding back grid-scale storage are pathetic energy densities of the new technologies (on the low end of the scale in the table above) compared with what we already have (fossil and nuclear).

    Why would anyone want a level playing field between generation and storage? It's a lunatic proposal. Grid providers should be mandated to provide reliable power to the grid. We can probably do this with future nuclear power by adding molten salt storage at no more than 10% increase in capital cost, and hardly any increase in running cost. Wind and solar should also provide their own storage, at the place of origin. Adding storage to the grid just for the sake of it as they seem to propose is a cost with no real benefit.

  3. Finally, to top it off, they propose
    "Demand flexibility - A new generation of hi-tech systems means consumers can save money and cut emissions without inconvenience. Government should ensure the UK’s benefits by improving regulation, informing the public of its benefits and piloting schemes on its own estate"

    By demand flexibility, they mean

    1. replacement of our current (well-functioning) electrical devices with more expensive ones fitted with a "smart" off switch controlled by your grid provider. A bit thick if you ask me.
    2. shutting down factories and industry at times of high demand (winter).
    3. for "improving regulation" read "these measures will be mandated."

Will any of this really add to our quality of life? No. At best it will lead to no improvement in life quality.

Will it really make a dramatic difference to carbon dioxide emissions? No. It's being done to support an electrical grid flush with renewable energies. Yet in Germany we know that adding 80,000 megawatts of wind and solar to their electricity grid has not actually lead to CO2-emission reductions.

Who are the great and good of the National Infrastructure Commission anyhow? Are they political representatives who can be held electorally responsible for their decisions? No. Are they electrical engineers who know what they're doing? No. Out of the nine, one is a civil engineer, whom I'd expect more sense from.

It seems to me that this QUANGO have been drinking the climate campaigner kool aid. They've come to believe the CC-propaganda. It's the kind of thing I expect from green loonies at the Guardian Environment section. Not from QUANGO bureaucrats.

The smart grid they call for exists as nothing more than a model in a climate crusader's spreadsheet. I have nothing against improving energy efficiency. Energy savings are possible by say, adding domestic solar water heating, and heat pumps to our homes.

Nor am I a climate denier. It's prudent to reduce CO2 emissions. We can do that with a nuclear powered electricity grid.

Yet, if we must employ someone to redesign the grid to improve efficiency, let it be electrical engineers please. Not economists and retired politicians.

If the justification for these measures is to be lower CO2-emissions then let's measure success by how well we do just that. France and Sweden lead the EU with, by far, the lowest CO2 in the electricity sector. Let's just copy their success.

Their 3 reports (pdfs) are here:

  • Smart power
  • Costs and benefits of GB interconnection: A Poyry report to the National Infrastructure Commission
  • Delivering future-proof energy infrastructure: Goran Strbac et al

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