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Leisure Management
2013 issue 4

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Leisure Management - In the dark


In the dark

Our electricity supply is under threat, and we shouldn't ignore it. The Energy Desk's Noah Andrie explores the challenges of meeting electricity demand with a dwindling energy supply

Noah Andrie, The Energy Desk
It pays to choose your energy supplier and contract very carefully ©shutterstock.com

We've all asked the question: "Did the lights just dim?" Most of us dismiss the event in as much time as it took to notice it and simply move on, instead of paying attention to the signal this could be giving us that our electricity supply is under threat.

In short, most of us are in the dark when it comes to the challenges that threaten our power supplies. Irregular power supplies are becoming a familiar problem in the UK and this is a real worry in an age where we are increasingly reliant on technology for the majority of our personal and commercial operations. We're accustomed to an uninterrupted power supply and why shouldn’t we be? The country’s electrical infrastructure should be designed to accommodate our energy needs. This is an idealist view, of course, and is somewhat detached from reality.

The main challenge is the management of voltage drop, the result of which is either a ‘brownout’ – the aforementioned light dimming moment, or a ‘blackout’, which is essentially an all-out power cut. The reasons for a voltage drop are numerous, but the problem starts with an overall lack of capacity from the National Grid and the ever-expanding geographical spread of our electricity supply. If you're in a rural location, you're more likely to experience an inconsistent power supply because you're situated right at the end of the chain. Think of the grid as a water pipe, along which are small holes from which water is being drawn. The holes will diminish the water pressure and if you’re at the end of the pipe, there simply won’t be enough water left for you. You, therefore, are the unlucky person who will experience regular brownouts, and eventually blackouts, because the inadequate electricity supply can’t quite reach you.

Supply simply isn’t meeting demand and, according to the energy industry regulator Ofgem, the UK is at risk of quite severe energy shortages as soon as 2015, worsened by upcoming changes in legislation that will affect the import of coal and gas-powered electricity from mainland Europe.

Today, we have approximately 14 per cent spare electricity capacity on our grid, which is estimated to fall to four per cent over the next three years*. So, it’s a challenge that isn't showing any signs of disappearing.

Along with the rest of the developed world, the UK has a habitual reliance on carbon sourced electricity and it’s only really over the past decade that renewable technologies have emerged as a means of easing the strain on the National Grid. It's unrealistic, however, to assume that renewable energy will ever completely replace carbon-generated electricity. The government is therefore under pressure from the industry to establish a long-term solution to guarantee the country’s security of supply. That leaves us all with a bit of a quandary though. If we use traditional electricity supplies and we're in a hotspot of brownouts and blackouts, are there measures out there that can be taken to back-up our supplies? Well, thankfully, the answer is yes.
Back-up generation is nothing new. Where you have critical power supplies, the obvious example being a hospital, all equipment will be supported by generator systems that are designed to kick in once a supply falls short. What is quite new though is a technology that you can install on individual bits of kit to specifically ensure they don’t lose their supply, allowing you to back up your critical systems without overhauling your site’s infrastructure. Powertech’s BlackCurrent is an example of this type of emergency power back-up system, which, when installed, kicks in automatically upon loss of power. The advantage is that it can easily be connected to individual pieces of equipment, allowing you to prioritise critical equipment in the event of a loss of power, such as vital IT systems or security alarms.

The challenge of our dwindling coal and gas-powered energy supplies isn't an easy one to counteract and there are no immediate fixes. It's a widely recognised problem across the industry and, as such, it jumps to the top of the agenda, giving us hope that a solution's on the horizon. In the interim, there are quick fixes available if you're one of the unlucky ones that has drawn the electricity supply short straw.

So, if the lights flicker, don’t dismiss it. Make it a priority to find a solution before the lights go out all together.

*Ofgem, Electricity Capacity Assessment, 5 October 2012


The Energy Desk's specialist help desk answers your questions

What can I do if there's a power loss?
The back of any supply bill should give the details of the emergency power loss number to ring. This will be the local distribution network operator (DNO) who owns the local network. For example, London is UKPN and the North West is ENWL.

If, however, the power loss is due to a faulty meter, it will be the meter operators responsibility.

What if we lose business due to an outage?
So long as you're not at fault for the outage, there's some provision for compensating businesses, although it is rather nominal.

Will the increase in renewable energy sources bridge the gap in capacity shortage and reduce power outages?
No. Renewable sources, such as wind, are more volatile. For example, it may not work if it's too windy or if it isn't windy enough. Although greener, they're less certain to provide the grid at all times, so the more we rely on them, the more at risk we are of power loss.

If I need more capacity availability, who pays and how do we arrange it?
Although there are independent connection providers, it's always necessary to apply first and foremost to the local distribution network operator (DNO) for the upgrade or new point of connection. Once they've offered a design and quote, it's prudent to approach an independent connection provider. They can challenge designs and offer alternatives, which may be cheaper and may prevent the local DNO from exaggerating the capacity requirements and passing on network reinforcement costs.


The Energy Desk

Noah Andrle is head of site operations at The Energy Desk
T: +44 (0)800 3777 889
F: +44 (0)1282 877081
E: info@theenergydesk.co.uk

Originally published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 4

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