It’s not often that you write about something nobody worries about. Worry, like many things, goes in waves. Either nobody except a seemingly strange individuals, probably with beards seem concerned or conversely everybody is tearing themselves apart at the potential catastrophe and attempting to spread their view across social media. Normally, the issues and conundrums of the current position fall between these two points and the same is no different for this article on electricity. Electricity, like many things in the UK, is taken for granted. The national grid, the network operators and suppliers do a great job of ensuring continuity and people typically only suffer limited interruptions from equipment failure and extreme weather.
In the UK the energy mix is changing, a higher proportion of power is coming from renewable sources and less from fossil fuels. These sources of energy are more variable than the traditional fuels. They provide energy at times dictated by natural resources and cannot in most cases be scaled in periods of high demand. Moving forwards, consumers and businesses are likely to face increased disruption. This is a prediction splashed out by tabloids for headlines over many years that has so far demonstrated few interruptions to consumers daily lives or consequences for business. I would suggest this potential problem is particularly relevant in the more rural areas, such as the south west of England.
Annual Peak demand on the UK grid is falling, driven by energy efficiency. In 2005 peak demand was 64.8GW yet by 2015 this had fallen to 61.3GW, a reduction of over 5%, according the National Grid. The manufacturing sector for example has been forced to invest in energy efficient equipment and reduce the per unit energy content of its goods to remain competitive against a backdrop of soaring electricity costs. While higher electricity unit prices are likely, the continued reduction of demand seems unlikely. Many of the large initial gains from efficiency have already been actioned and further gains will be incrementally smaller. Electric vehicles are likely to put an increased strain on baseload demand and fuel further reliance on the infrastructure, even if the technology uses its battery storage capacity to support the grid during periods of high demand.
The cost of action for consumers tends to outweigh the benefits in most cases; the cost of a standby generator, which can be low to cover basic demand is only part of the cost. A switch to isolate the generator from the mains and professional installation can add considerably to the overall cost especially coupled with ongoing maintenance, which is essential if you want to call on the supply when the grid eventually lets you down. The generally limited number of outages and the short duration of each makes the UK consumer market an unlikely candidate for significant investment (although individuals with a medical reason or other special case may take the plunge). This contrasts with the rural USA, where standby power is considered a requirement in many cases. This market is however entirely different, with a poorer grid due to lower population density and more frequent adverse weather events, especially on the east coast.
For businesses, especially those with more than a handful of employees, the case is entirely different. While the chance of network failure may be similar, the rectification may take longer (residential consumers are often given priority). Summing the myriad of potential losses gives the decision-making landscape a different appearance. Each business will be different and just a few minutes should be giving to recognising the potential dangers of failure to prepare. Lost employee hours where wages must still be paid and lost income when customers are unable to purchase your product or service. These customers may go elsewhere and not return the next time, giving a lasting impact. Whatever the decision, thinking and understanding the potential benefits of standby power for your business is a modern necessity.
Above all, research your options, potential losses and know your risks. You can read specifically about how a diesel generator works here http://bit.ly/WhatIsADieselGenerator , but look at other options depending on your situation, such as UPS systems, petrol or gas generators or simply understanding the impact if you choose to go without. Now where did I put those candles?