Engineers Respond to National Infrastructure Commission’s Smart Energy Report
Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said in response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s report on Smart Energy: “This report makes some welcome recommendations, for example highlighting the importance of electricity storage and associated regulations, however recommendations that mean the UK to has to rely more on electricity imports from other countries brings a number of risks.
“Firstly, UK electricity supplies may be subject to electricity prices outside of the UK and competition from other European countries also looking to reduce their generating capacity. For example power outages in Eastern Europe could lead to soaring European power prices, which may have a knock-on effect on the electricity prices we pay in the UK. In addition, there is a risk that if demand is very high in the country generating the power, the UK’s power demands won’t be prioritised. The UK’s electricity supply, as well as the prices we pay, would be subject to energy policy and markets outside of the UK. This may be further affected by the results of the EU referendum.
“The greater use of interconnectors would risk UK job losses and the long-term loss of vital power engineering skills. There would be less demand for UK to construct or replace power plants, which could be devastating for communities that rely on local power plants and upstream supply chains to provide jobs and investment. If the UK stops constructing new electricity infrastructure there is also the real danger that the country could lose the ability to develop these skills for generations to come. It is vital that the power sector is able to inspire the next generation of engineers to be creative and innovative and to feel they can have confidence in the continuation of the sector.
“The proposed role of flexible demand systems and smart power is more welcome and should play a part in the future energy management system. However we do not yet know enough to make this happen. With any new innovation there is a time and cost associated with connecting to incumbent infrastructure, including the development of new skills, supply chains and the transition to smart devices. Specifically there is a need for further research into the security of internet managed energy systems where resilience is essential.
“Most importantly it is far from clear how future changes in our transport and heating systems will impact on the electricity market. These two sectors currently consume four times as much energy as we have in total in our entire electricity system. The potential for disruption is clear.
“Overall the Smart Power report usefully widens the debate around the continued development of the UK power generation sector. Unfortunately, it may be found to raise more questions than answers and thereby risks reducing investor confidence further.”
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