The National Grid is still the driving force behind the nation’s energy needs, but is it fit for purpose? According to Duncan McPherson, CEO at CooperOstlund, our future energy needs will need more than a centralised solution.
“Despite being one of the UK’s largest companies, with a reported operating profit of £3.8bn in 2017, the National Grid is failing to cope with rising demand and unprecedented change,” he said.
“Some industry analysts believe that this failure is due to a lack of investment in expanding and upgrading the UK’s ageing infrastructure. Add to this the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations and the push towards greener, more sustainable forms of energy, and you can see why a centralised National Grid may soon be bound for the history books. That is, unless it adapts.”
According to Duncan, the UK must now prepare for a gradual transition away from a centralised National Grid system and invest in different forms of energy, such as anaerobic digestion, biogas, renewables, batteries and peaking plants. “This ensures a gentle transition to a more diverse, decentralised energy system, without disrupting our energy supply in the process,” he explained.
“Peaking plants, for example, are a simple but effective way of injecting relatively low-carbon energy into the grid at short notice by using natural gas to generate electricity, which is then sold to the National Grid (usually at a premium).
“At times of peak demand, electricity use exceeds that provided by the baseload. To avoid system shutdown, other sources of energy are required to top up the Grid and meet the specified demand.”
As Duncan explains, it’s unlikely that the Grid will disappear completely. “Its role, however, may move away from the wheel that drives our energy infrastructure, to one of the cogs driving the wheel,” he said. “For this reason, we need a delicate balance of investing in the Grid to keep it ticking and investing in alternatives that will one day supersede it. Peaking plants are, and will remain, a key part of this transition.”