Don’t count on constant electricity under renewable energy, says UK electricity CEO

(March 6, 2011) According to the CEO of the UK’s electricity grid operator, consumers are going to have to make lifestyle changes to adapt to unreliable wind power.

Electricity consumers in the UK will need to get used to flicking the switch and finding the power unavailable, according to Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, the country’s grid operator. Because of a six-fold increase in wind generation, which won’t be available when the wind doesn’t blow, “The grid is going to be a very different system in 2020, 2030,” he told BBC’s Radio 4. “We keep thinking that we want it to be there and provide power when we need it. It’s going to be much smarter than that.

“We are going to change our own behaviour and consume it when it is available and available cheaply.”

Holliday has for several years been predicting that blackouts could become a feature of power systems that replace reliable coal plants with wind turbines in order to meet greenhouse gas targets. Wind-based power systems are necessary to meet the government’s targets, he has explained, but they will require lifestyle changes.

Under the so-called “smart grid” that the UK is developing, the government-regulated utility will be able to decide when and where power should be delivered, to ensure that it meets the highest social purpose. Governments may, for example, decide that the needs of key industries take precedence over others, or that the needs of industry trump that of residential consumers. Governments would also be able to price power prohibitively if it is used for non-essential purposes.

Smart grids are being developed by utilities worldwide to allow the government to control electricity use in the home, down to the individual appliance. Smart grids would monitor the consumption of each appliance and be capable of turning them off if the power is needed elsewhere.

Holliday’s startling comments on BBC Radio 4 were reported by The Daily Telegraph.

Financial Post

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and the author of The Deniers.


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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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