HELPING the public understand more about energy will help firms keep the lights on, says Dr Stephen Breslin
Today, most of us will get home from work, flick on the lights and make a cup of tea as usual without realising that the only reason we can do this was because the National Grid was using new measures to keep the power on.
For the first time, a new tool to balance the energy system, Demand Side Balancing Reserve (DSBR), is being used to help manage the peak demand time, between 5pm and 6pm, when families start to get home and cook dinner but offices and factories are still open. Under this, a small number of large businesses are asked, under a commercial arrangement, to cut their electricity use – for example by switching to back-up generators or turning off their air-conditioning for an hour.
The power shortage was caused by a number of factors, including unexpected maintenance issues at ageing coal-power stations and temporary shutdowns at several power plants; low wind speeds, meaning wind farms were only able to produce one per cent of the UK’s required electricity, and no solar input, because the requirement happened when it was dark.
National Grid is clear that these DSBR measures are one of many tools used to maintain a significant buffer of reserve power and that we were never close to being plunged into darkness. Nevertheless, the need for these measures should focus our thoughts on addressing our future energy requirements.
The public must understand the importance of planning ahead to ensure we are able to meet the issue of our growing future power needs, in a reliable way and at an acceptable economic and environmental cost.
In order to find solutions, there has to be a greater understanding of the issues of energy generation. This requires young people to be inspired to consider their role in ensuring future generations have sustainable power sources. If nothing is done, matching supply and demand will become more challenging as old coal power stations close and gas generators are mothballed.
National Grid’s commitment to tackling the public’s understanding of energy use has seen it join others in the energy industry plus policymakers and academics to create the Powering The Future exhibition, at Glasgow Science Centre.
With the aim of giving the public unbiased information, the project – which has the support of a number of UK government departments as well as the Scottish Government – hopes to increase the number of young people entering science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies and careers, as a new approach to the impending energy crisis must be found. Without public engagement on this issue the UK could be facing a dark future.
• Dr Stephen Breslin is chief executive of Glasgow Science Centre. Glasgow Science Centre’s Powering The Future exhibition opens on December 10.