The negligence of successive governments over many decades has resulted in a serious lack of investment in the country’s power infrastructure.
This has culminated in alarming forecasts that have been outlined by the National Grid, which suggest spare energy capacity levels could dip to just 1.2 per cent this winter. This could mean perilous consequences for the UK if just one major energy supplier goes down or if there is a sudden surge in requirements – turning off the lights, heating and power around the country and bringing Britain to a grinding halt.
For businesses, no power means no work, and the threat of brownouts or even blackouts has led many companies across the country to look to alternative, reliable sources of power that will reduce their dependency on the national grid, minimise their energy costs and increase supply efficiency. This does not, of course, mean a total break from traditional energy provision, but instead an alternative that works in conjunction with it to take some of the burden from our overwrought infrastructure.
One solution is for businesses to set up their own decentralised network in which energy can be generated locally. By taking advantage of resources available in the proximity, such as fields for setting up wind farms or buildings on which to install solar panels, businesses can create their own low-carbon energy rather than importing it from hundreds of miles away. The issue with intermittent sources of energy such as these is, of course, clear from the name, and that’s is why it is important to create a mix of different sources so that reliance upon any one technology is lessened.
Another, more reliable technology option can be found in the implementation of an on-site or local sustainable power plant capable of generating both heat and electricity. Traditionally, the sole objective of such plants was to produce electricity, and the significant amount of heat that was created as a by-product was released into the atmosphere via chimney stacks; now, by using combined heat and power (CHP) systems, this heat can be captured and utilised directly to warm homes, public buildings, businesses, and even swimming pools. Not only is this much more efficient, but cleaner technologies such as gasification mean that it is much more environmentally friendly, too.
Energy generated in this way can also be used to power neighbourhood initiatives and partnership schemes to boost community relations if there is a surplus, or even sold to local public services and third party organisations to create additional income. Therefore, producing your own energy can become a powerful competitive advantage for the forward-thinking organisation.
The national grid shortage this winter should act as a wake-up call to businesses, governments, and environmental authorities who have long dismissed this problem. The unimaginable thought of not having electricity as the evenings draw in and weather turns colder will become an unfortunate reality for several businesses and homes this year – a situation which simply isn’t acceptable for an economy of the UK’s size.
☛ Peter Rolton is chairman of engineering consultancy Rolton Group