Sunday 11 October 2015

So why are "microgrids" the future .......... and what are they?

In the last post, "The Tory energy strategy .........." we looked at the Osborne/Rudd plan for our future, concentrating on the nuclear component and how much that will cost. It is obvious that the cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations doubles the cost of energy but is being justified as the best no-carbon emission option. At the same time the Tories have reversed the Labour strategy of investment in alternative energy even though knowledgeable and senior voices in the industry are stressing that the idea of large nuclear power stations to be used for baseload power is outdated. In the rest of the world there is a growing awareness that the energy market is changing with more open and accountable societies realigning their regulations and taxation to better promote that change. The Labour strategy opened the door for our country to benefit from this new world of innovation and emerging technologies but losing the last election has allowed the Tories to re-establish the ascendency of 20ͭth century thinking, our energy dependent on a base of expensive nuclear plants, augmented by fossil fuel generation ........... oh and some off-shore wind generation. We don't have to look too far to find out why the Tories are doing this as there are many reports about the links between Tories and energy companies with even former Tory ministers raising the alarm: Guardian article highlighting conservatives links with fossil fuel lobbyists and of course, as mentioned in the previous post, the present minister, Amber Rudd, is far too close to the industry. The Tory party have received £2.5 million in donations prior to the last election from the energy sector (see this Guardian article from March 2015) so it is not a surprise if their energy strategy reflects the interests of their party donors.

So what is the rest of the world thinking of doing? 

Isle of Eigg
The basis of this new way of thinking is the concept of the microgrid. Instead of a few centralised power plants creating electricity that is then distributed via a national grid there will be a multiplicity of "microgrids" supplying energy to villages, towns and districts ........ each microgrid connected to the national grid, exporting surplus production but also, sometimes drawing from the national network when they cannot supply all the peak load. This approach decreases the number of large power stations that have to be built or maintained and offers the best route for sustainable, carbon neutral means of production to become the norm. Some microgrids already exist, like on the Isle of Eigg in the inner Hebrides which is self sufficient in energy, relying on  solar panels, battery bank, hydro and wind generation which provides the mix of renewable generation which powers the grid.  In the summer months when there is little wind or rain, the 53.5kW of solar photovoltaic panels angled at 30 degrees run the island all day. Look here at the Community Energy Scotland article - it is very informative. The Eigg microgrid is different in that it is not connected to the national grid so is completely standalone. A mainland microgrid has the advantage that it does not have to be the sole supplier from day one but can take time to mature, each year increasing the local supply and relying less and less on power from the national grid. You don't have to take my word for it but look here: Major bank analysts “believe solar will eventually replace nuclear and coal.” This report, to be found on the greentechmedia website, underpins the concept of microgrids and a further article spotlights the importance of ensuring that the national grid is not dominated by vested interests, likening it to the internet: Grid Neutrality: Principles for Tomorrow’s Electricity Sector. This article nails the Tory strategy for what it is, restrictive and preferential to the big energy conglomerates that now have the whip hand in forming Tory policy. Cameron claims that Corbyn hates Britain and is a threat to national security but when he crows over the EDF deal (£76 billion, scaling up by inflation right through to 2061) he shows contempt for this country and its people (that's us) who will have to pay the bill. A prime minister is elected to serve the people, to promote the best interests of the UK, not skew policies for the benefit of those who prop up his party. 

So what can we do?

Lisa Nandy
Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Tories are in government for the next five years and have already started to enter into contracts with energy companies that will lock us into a counter-intuitive policy for decades to come but all is not lost. In a powerful speech at the Labour Party Conference our Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Lisa Nandy, spoke time and time again of the importance of renewable energy, most notably as the "Clean Energy Boom". No ifs or buts there, the boom is happening and is recognised by Labour who are putting it at the heart of their energy and climate policies. Lisa talked about initiatives at local level and I was reminded of the Derbyshire County Council solar farm project. Her closing words were, "Let us change the story" and it was evident that she believes that we can do just that even though this Tory government are trying to stop this story from happening.

In a previous post BelperStuff highlighted Conor McGinn and his question,  "is labour on the side of history" ............. Conor, Labour's energy policy is definitely on the side of history and in the next post we will look at how it could be applied locally in Belper.

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