A perfect electrical storm brewing around the 10-point plan

There is a perfect storm brewing in the UK as we get serious about reducing carbon emissions to net zero.

The government’s vision for a green industrial revolution is a welcome piece of positive news in these challenging times but it really brings into focus the scale of the task ahead.

The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, just released as a policy paper, covers pretty much everything you would expect, from clean energy sources to zero emissions transport, greener buildings to innovation and finance.

The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution

But the detail of how to deliver the ten point plan is lighter than you might expect and still begs many questions about how we move from “talking green” to “building green”. In those as yet unanswered questions, there are the conditions for that perfect storm.

Electric vehicles

This view comes from SaveMoneyCutCarbon’s experience in our business, looking after thousands of customers, from households right up to large hotel groups, hospitals, retail, and schools.

What are the elements of the perfect storm, which is heading for the National Grid and the electricity networks? Number 1 is the move to electric vehicles (EV), with a ban on fossil fuel vehicle sales in just 9 years, with massive increase in energy demand.

The second element is the growth in energy demand from data centres and all the other electricity-hungry developments. And the third one is the government initiative to move us away from fossil fuel heating in our homes and commercial buildings.

So, it’s about an electric future. These three have the potential to create a perfect electrical storm of supply and demand – how to generate the energy and how to distribute it. The supply solutions revolve around how quickly and how well we build the low-carbon generators, from wind farms to nuclear, and how effectively we can upgrade the entire cabling network.

Wind power

In terms of supply, we cannot rely on wind power, even with the massive increase in construction that is envisaged in the 10 point plan. And building a new nuclear power station is not something you can do in six months. These are all major investments, with a long-term vision, so would any government fully commit itself to policies that are going to upset people? Nobody wants a nuclear power station or a wind turbine in their backyard.

Drilling down to the local infrastructure level, our office is a good example of pressures of demand. We have about 50 staff based here in Suffolk, and all of them drive either electric or hybrid cars, wherever possible. And at peak, when people normally would be in the office, we may have up to 32 cars plugged into a network. Basically, our cable infrastructure in this building, our fuse boards, were not up to that level of capacity. So that has a real impact when you look at businesses.

A bigger pipe

Fundamentally, if you go back to the simple physics of electricity and energy, if you are going to push more down the pipe, you need a bigger pipe. Let’s say I want an EV charging point in my garage. The cable that was put in there 15 years ago by the builder was designed for me to plug in my hover and do a little bit of lawn mowing. It was never designed to charge my two electric cars. So, if you do put your car on charge, then your fuse board starts to hum, because it was never designed for that sort of load.

And you can follow the infrastructure right the way back to the power station. Is the cable big enough to cope with the sort of load that we’re putting on?

We look after a lot of hotels. So, if you take a one hotel – let’s say a 900 bedroom Heathrow airport hotel and if you assume they have 600 car parking spaces, in 10 years’ time, there’s 600 electric cars plugged in overnight. You’re going to wipe out the Heathrow electrical network. A hotel guest will expect to check in and plug in. And in the morning, they want to just get in the car and drive, not having to find another a charging station to plug into for an hour. So, there’s a real infrastructure issue at the local level for all types of business and services, not least the NHS and police.

Reduce and repurpose

With that in mind, a ticket the government is missing is about reducing what we already use and then repurposing it. Reduce and Repurpose – that’s what SaveMoneyCutCarbon calls it.

For example, a police site we inspected recently had thousands of old lights burning 60 watt and  100 watt bulbs. The energy used could be reduced by 90% by moving to LED lighting. People tend to look at that as a money saving – you save £20 a year for every 60-watt bulb that’s on for 20 hours a day replaced by LED.  But think about how a 90% energy saving can then be repurposed into charging the police car.

That’s the bit the government is missing in this jigsaw, how we use the energy we consume more efficiently, whether that be the biggest factory, the biggest hotel, or the home. If every household in the UK, for example, could fit LED, that would save megawatts of energy, which could then be repurposed to charge EVs. We can rebalance what we’re using the energy on, and we use it better.

We’re still going to need fossil fuels for a while to come, so we need to use the energy generated by fossil fuels in the cleanest, smartest way. It’s about green investment at the local level, and insulating homes is becoming a little old school. We need to have a bit more of a vision across the thousands and thousands of buildings throughout the UK.

That needs smart green finance. Standard financial models see large-scale investment in individual energy-saving, carbon-cutting technologies like domestic LED, EV chargers and so on as too risky. It’s time that the finance world looked again at its view of risk. And that might need government support – the mantra should be “Don’t give me a subsidy, support the risk”, which is exactly what the government has done with COVID and furlough.

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