The UK’s energy system could suffer “serious consequences” unless action is taken now to prepare for the rapidly-growing number of clean technologies accessing the grid, according to a new report by think tank Green Alliance.
Launched today, the report argues that the increasing number of consumers looking to buy small-scale clean technologies, such as solar panels and electric vehicles (EVs) could risk overloading the grid at peak times, unless action is taken.
Backed by energy giant E.ON and engineernig powerhouse Siemens, the report argues unless significant changes are made to the UK’s energy system, just six electric vehicles charging in close proximity during peak periods of energy use could lead to grid overload and power cuts.
It also predicts the tipping point at which the rapid roll out of clean technologies starts to present a challenge could occur as soon as 2020, arguing the government could “lose the ability to control the speed of small-scale energy deployment” around the end of the decade.
However, the report also argues the technical issues that spring from the mass roll out of solar and EV technologies can be overcome through the development of a smarter power system.
It predicts that modern grid management technologies could harness electric car batteries capable of storing enough power to keep the UK’s lights on for seven hours at a time, effectively eliminating blackout risks by 2025. It also predicts distributed energy technologies could save customers more than £1.6bn per year.
The report recommends the government set up a new independent system designer to ensure small-scale energy is properly integrated into the energy system, and makes the case for EVs and solar installations to be given the functionality to provide grid flexibility.
In addition, more flexible ‘time of use’ energy bill tariffs should be made available to consumers to help better manage demand, bolstered by automation technologies and smart meters, the report says.
“With the right policy, EVs and solar could help keep the lights on and cut consumer bills,” said Dustin Benton, acting policy director at Green Alliance. “Political parties need to outline how the large scale energy the UK needs and the small scale energy people want can work better together.”
Brian Tilley, head of policy development at E.ON, added that with a more decentralised and flexible energy system now emerging, changes are needed to the way the system is governed.
“Put simply, in the coming years customers will increasingly take control of their own energy generation blurring the lines between consumer, generator and supplier,” he said. “The benefits of this change, if handled correctly, could be huge for both customers and the country. Ultimately, the transition to a more decentralised energy system should be grasped as an opportunity, and not be placed in the too difficult to do pile.”