Getting the public behind smart grids

Jul 27, 2011 No Comments by

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has said he intends for 100% of the country’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. While this target is completely unrealistic (though it would undeniably pave the way to future independence) it has once again brought into focus the public’s attitudes towards wind power.

The government clearly loves wind along with all green technologies, but unfortunately it seems that the public – at least those with the loudest voices – do not. A constant stream of news articles proclaiming protests to the erection of on-shore turbines litters the internet. Even those attempting installation on their own land to counteract rising electricity costs run into trouble when too close to heritage sites (6 miles away). Protestors to a small fleet of potential eye-sores in Lincolnshire are questioning why on-shore turbines are even required – won’t off-shore farms produce all wind power we need?

Well it could – at a greater cost. And it’s a cost that’s going to be passed to the energy consumers. With gas and electricity prices already soaring and fuel poverty in the UK making the headlines – what kind of person would want to add to these costs further by pushing all our wind generation out to sea?

The Committee on Climate Change’s recent report shows onshore wind to be our cheapest renewable option but despite this they’ve been forced to place very conservative estimates on its future deployment due to NIMBYism – predicting it will have a fifth of the capacity of its more expensive offshore counterpart.

Added to this we have the ever present protests to the erection of new pylons. Plans by National Grid to cut swathes through mid Wales with a stream of pylons were not met completely favourably by various forces (including TV weathergirl Sian Lloyd who feared plans to “turn Wales into one gigantic power plant”). Even if the people are happy with where the power is coming from – they’re not happy with how you get it to where it needs to be. National Grid are even installing expensive submarine HVDC cables, partly in order to avoid many of the potential headaches that come with trying to put up pylons these days. There are some hopes that developments in design will lead to pylon designs more pleasing on the eye – but these are unlikely to come around quick enough to help with the first waves of infrastructure development required.

Striking new pylon design by Dietmar Koering of Arphenotype

So what does it mean for Smart Grids in the UK?

Smart Grids need renewable power generation, they need distributed power generation, and they need a power transmission network that is capable of handling these rapidly varying sources of power injection. Unfortunately public objection is standing in the way of the developments in all of these areas.

Reasons for public disapproval of renewable energy technologies can be complex, including political prejudice, and concerns over the fairness of the decision making process (concisely discussed in this report) but popular support must be garnered if future developments are to come to fruition. It may require stronger government backing to support distributed generation applications (with the DECC’s Feed-in Tariffs being an example of support being targeted in the right places) or it may require greater public education as to the true implications of ‘going green’ (not only in terms of cost). In any case, it seems unlikely that simplest solution – reducing electrical demand – will be widely adopted.

 

Domestic & Corporate Consumers, Latest Smart Grid News, Thinking Grids

About the author

Published postgraduate researcher working in the areas of HVDC and wide area power system stabilising control. Interested in future grid scenarios and the feasibility of smart grid solutions on the transmission scale.
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