Current affairs

By guest columnist Bill Wright, ECA’s head of energy solutions

Once again, the threat of power shortages is dominating the news agenda. A combination of an exceptionally cold winter, further power station outages and very high demand could lead to a spate of local blackouts.

In an ideal world, we would build more power stations and become more energy efficient as a way of reducing this threat, but a more realistic long-term solution is to use more renewable energy systems. However, in order for this idea to work we need to resolve the lack of compatibility between local power systems and the centralised National Grid.

What’s the solution? The simple answer is to develop both large and small scale electricity storage with the capacity for small systems to run ‘off grid’.  There have been a number of attempts to do this on a large scale, with one classic example being the Dinorwig Power Station – or ‘Electric Mountain’. This system involves water being pumped at night to the top lake and then released through water turbines, and all six units when synchronised can move from 0 MW to a load of 1800 MW in around 16 seconds – very useful in the event of a blackout.

On a smaller scale, we need to develop an economic system for householders to store excess renewable energy that is generated during the day for use overnight, at peak periods or in blackouts. There is an auction scheme for large consumers to install peak control equipment, so why not have similar competition for manufacturers of domestic storage systems?