Smart grids: supporting efficient, affordable, sustainable and secure energy



The UK is on the cusp of breakthrough technology that could transform energy networks worldwide. Alex Blackburne spoke with Robert McNamara of SmartGrid GB about the future of smart grid development.

At a time when Britain’s energy bills are up in the air, it will come as a refreshing surprise to most that there is a solution that addresses, amongst other things, sustainability and cost issues, whilst offering the potential to help us shift towards a green, low-carbon economy.

Connecting some of the world’s most innovative technologies and industries in an effort to stabilise energy markets, smart grids are seen by many as the future of energy network development.

Robert McNamara is manager of SmartGrid GB, a group that represents 23 companies from across the energy and technology industries. It was set up to support the Government and provide advice on how smart grid development should move forward.

That’s all well and good, you might think, but what is a smart grid? McNamara clears it up for us.

There is a consensus around the idea that it’s about the application of technology to energy networks to make them more efficient and secure, and to help provide more affordable energy for generations to come”, he explains.

The question at the moment is that with electricity demand rising significantly over the coming decades, how is the grid going to be able to deal with that rise in electricity demand?

For example, when every street is charging their electric vehicle at 7 o’clock in the evening, how will the local grid infrastructure deal with that?

The idea is that if you apply smart technologies to energy networks, you could be able to better manage increased demand by shifting it.

So, in essence, a smart grid is a clever and cleaner version of our current energy network, drawing together different ground-breaking technologies and linking them in one intelligent system.

And Britain, according to a recent SmartGrid GB report, is ideally-placed to be at the forefront of the revolution.

Smart Grid: a race worth winning? outlines the massive potential benefits involved in the UK getting out of the smart grid blocks quickly—and not just economic ones either.

It was launched in April, with energy minister Charles Hendry in attendance.

The study predicts that some 10,000 jobs would be created in Britain with a transition to smart grids, whilst overseas exports could exceed £5 billion.

But the study also stresses the need for fast action.

A lot of governments around the world are looking at modernising the way they generate, transmit and distribute energy, and certainly a lot of them are looking at smart grid”, McNamara states.

The point with our report was to show that the UK is one of the world leaders in smart grid development.

“We are very heavily in green technologies, we’ve got the largest smart meter rollout of its kind in the world and we have a really impressive initiative called the Low Carbon Networks Fund.

“The concern however, is that there isn’t an overarching plan as to how we join together all these initiatives and make a British smart grid a reality.

Other countries like Japan and Korea have policy certainty, and in turn, they might benefit from developing smart grid industries.

If the UK is serious about smart grid development and wants to keep up with its competitors, it needs much more certainty over what needs to be done.”

With this in mind, the report sets out seven recommendations to achieve an intelligent energy network, which it says will be 50% cheaper in the long run than just upgrading conventional networks—costing £23 billion as opposed to £46 billion.

The recommendations include increased guidance from policy makers, protecting consumers against the potential risks of smart grid, being open-minded with regards to the industry models, wider and larger scale pilot projects, and also investment in skills to ensure maximum employment benefits.

With smart grid comes the opportunity for Britain to rise as an innovator in a technological field that is likely to be adopted globally, with obvious economic and employment benefits.

And judging by the findings of the SmartGrid GB report, with governmental support, this needn’t simply be a starry-eyed vision of the future.

Further reading:

The future of intelligent energy


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