Just when you thought it was safe to relax about Energy

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Did you hear about the crisis that hit the UK on 4th  November, causing  massive disruption, and provoking outcry in industry, and suddenly sent energy rocketing back up the UK’s political agenda?

You probably didn’t hear this, because the first major threat to the UK’s national grid this winter still left it with a princely 2% spare capacity, sufficient for the National Grid to issue a “notification of inadequate system margin” (NISM), but insufficient to actually disrupt the service.

While this was only the first stage of alert, and while an abnormal lack of wind was an aggravating factor – bringing the UK’s now significant wind generation capacity almost to a halt, one of the mildest starts to November on record may have helped to save the day. As so often in human affairs, a “near miss” is treated as a near non-event. A single “hit” on the other hand could have major repercussions, prompting much more urgent action not just on the resilience of the UK’s national grid, but on how buildings respond to peaks and troughs in energy demand.

BSRIA has been reporting and analysing on Building Energy Management and the issues around it for a number of years now. One of the trends that we have noticed is that over time, more suppliers of building energy management solutions include some form of Demand Response as part of their solution. This enables a temporary reduction in the power drawn by certain services in the building where this does not impact on productivity or well-being.

Our latest review of the global leaders in Building Energy Management showed that almost half now offer demand response, the highest figure that we have seen to date. This includes both the global leaders in Building Automation and Energy Management and suppliers specialising in energy management.

At the same time, energy storage is being taken more serious as a viable and cost-effective way of providing additional resilience and peak capacity, both for energy suppliers and in some cases for consumers. While the UK is still some way from having a thriving market in home energy storage systems comparable to that developing in Germany (where residential electricity is significantly more expensive), it seems quite likely that any significant grid outages will give a boost to the market for battery storage for both residential and non-residential use.

It is still quite hard to judge how probable a major power outage is in the UK this winter. There are already further processes for demand reduction which can be invoked if the situation gets tighter than it did on November 4th. However a coincidence of severe cold with a lack of wind, and unplanned outages at power stations is not inconceivable. And the major strategic initiatives, such as the construction of two new nuclear power plants, will take years to come online.

The UK has got used to ‘living dangerously, and so far has got away with it. But the sensible response to a lucky escape is to learn the lessons, and  not to assume that your luck will go on holding indefinitely.

The very least we can say is that all organisations should be looking at the potential implications of even a short interruption to power supplies, and how they can best mitigate these.

I shall be talking a bit more about BSRIA’s latest research into building energy management and related areas in a webinar on Tuesday 24th November, so I hope that you will be able to join me then

2 Responses to Just when you thought it was safe to relax about Energy

  1. UK electricity consumption is still rising. We heard at the BSRIA Briefing on 13 November that ‘Big Data’ is growing by 50% a year. Data Centres already use 4% of UK electricity generation. So in simple terms the 2% margin will have gone by next year.

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