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We’ve got the power… the future for energy use in this country


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The world of energy production is changing rapidly

Fresh from a UK Power Networks roadshow, David Knight, CPRE Essex chairman, offers his thoughts on how our energy needs are being tackled.

Early this month I visited a roadshow hosted by UK Power Networks.
This organisation owns and maintain electricity cables and lines across London, the South East and the East of England, “making sure your lights stay on”.
The meeting was well attended and had a good spectrum of guests from local authorities, business and groups representing vulnerable people.
While a private company, UK Power Networks is regulated by government organisation Ofgem and has strict performance targets imposed upon it.
These include customer minutes lost, customer interruptions caused by loss of power, distribution cost by customers and customer satisfaction.
It was pleasing to see all the targets showed improving trends but, as it pointed out, UK Power Networks wants to do better.
Using modern technology, we as an audience were able to vote on the importance of various issues and see instantly the results on-screen.
Here I summarise the events discussed:

Data: its use and protection
With climate change upon us, together with new decarbonised, decentralised and digitised energy systems, there will be a need to gather data that will help predict the effects of extreme occurrences in a bid to ensure that power failures can be dealt with in an efficient and timely manner.
Smart-metering systems will play an essential part in this. They are not just a means of monitoring electricity usage but also an instrument that alerts the supplier when local supply cuts have occurred, helping it understand the demands on the network.
Further, the public are offered the chance to feed power back into the network via solar panels (and in future the power stored in our electric car batteries), helping regulate voltage swings.
Smart meters have been an issue as it would appear the first generation was less than perfect, with issues over communication and different IT suppliers, meaning consumers sometimes had to change their smart boxes when changing electricity suppliers. However, the latest generation has supposedly corrected this problem.
UK Power Networks was aware of concerns about data protection and asked a range of questions on which we could vote.
My position was that information from smart meters need not be intrusive into individual households’ means, but more a way for UK Power Networks to provide them the most economical products to suit their needs… a bit like the ‘white meters’ of old.

World of energy
It was made clear that we are and will become more responsible for the production and use of energy in the future.
For instance, we will need to charge our electric cars, sell our surplus electricity back to the National Grid or to others and store energy via battery packs.
Regarding supplies for cars, at present there are two types of charging sources:

  • Low current, long charging time
  • High-current fast chargers

The former effectively involves plugging your car into the domestic supply system every home has, while the latter requires connection from the National Grid via a substation.
There are apparently plans in motion to put a network of these National Grid appliances down the ‘spine’ of the UK.
My view is that all new homes should include a connection to its own domestic supply but with easy access to a fast-charging system. The building industry should bear the cost of this.

Helping customers in vulnerable circumstances
It was good to be informed that UK Power Networks was working in partnership to help customers in vulnerable circumstances.
Using the Priority Services Register (PSR), which already has 1.6 million homes on its data base, it not only targets these groups in the event of power cuts but has provided energy advice and practical measures to more than 300,000 customers to address the underlying causes of fuel poverty.
Nevertheless, with ever-increasing energy costs, more clearly needs to be done.

In conclusion, this was an informative and worthwhile event. The world must move away from fossil-fuel production and, with the sensible and controlled use of modern technology, we can all help this cause and in doing so reduce our costs.
We must, though, bear in mind that information technology, while the norm for younger generations, is more difficult to grasp for other sections of society.