Interview: Is It Time To Tear Down The National Grid?

Is It Time To Tear Down The National Grid?

If there was a way to cut the electricity you lose between generating power and using it -- from 65% to 3% -- you'd do it.

Andrew Jones, managing director at the S&C Electric Company, has an idea on how to do just that:

Tear down the national grid.

"Today 65% of energy from the time it's taken as fuel to the time it reaches your house is lost," he told HuffPost recently.

"That's conversion of fuel to the electricity supply. My view is that there must be a way to make that better."

What Andrew suggests instead is something which can sound, frankly, a bit dull - but is also hugely radical.

The idea is to switch from a producing power centrally to a new, localised and community-based model, where everyone makes the bulk of their own power, on their own. Village by village - and in London, block by block. It's a similar argument made for local food - reducing travel cuts costs, waste and connects people more directly to the resources they consume.

Jones says that the average user of electricity consumes about 1.5kw per day. The largest project he has worked on - S&C is a 100-year-old provider of electrical storage equipment, and their tech is being used to connect wind energy to the electrical grid in the north of England and Scotland - involved a community turbine of 850kw, enough to supply 600 homes. He thinks that for many people, this will become an increasingly tempting model - especially in the short term for rural communities.

He claims that the wastage of power drops from 65% to 3-4% when you switch from a central to a local model.

"You're not trying to make profit you're trying to share the benefit, so there is a social element to this," he said.

Jones argues the National Grid was built in 1938 for another world, where usage was lower and fuel more abundant.

"At the very beginning electricity generation started in small communities. Then they decided it was better to produce it centrally, create a network and flow it around the country. When fuels were plentiful, that makes a great model becuase you couldn't afford to have lots of generating plants. Now that we're trying to stop using coal and gas it doesn't."

Of course, like most things in life, it's a bit more complicated than that.

Well, a lot more... And Jones knows it. He speculates on the role of the National Grid, but admits in the short - even the long term, it's going to be a mix.

"No one's going to rip down the national grid just because we do some at the community level," he admits. "The infrastructure is still going to exist. But you use it only when you need to - not all of the time."

There are many sides to this debate, of course. Many argue that generating power centrally doesn't necessarily have to be inefficient - and that large-scale renewable power stations could supply power efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way.

Still others point to the need for the UK not only to keep its national grid, but go one better and build an international grid to ensure a consistent supply - for instance with Iceland and its planned geothermal plants, which is a suggestion actively being looked at by energy minister Charles Hendry.

This 'super grid' could also use wind and wave power in northern Europe, and solar energy generated in Africa and southern Europe. The UK currently has two inter-connectors to France and the Netherlands, and the government is planning at least nine others.

Jones says the idea has merit - but crucially is also extremely fragile.

"If you get any disturbance on that interconnector your power source breaks down," he said. "It's like nuclear - it has a role to play - but that's a finite resource too."

Which is why he comes back to the argument for an increased role for community-based power production - which by its nature is more resilient, arguably more efficient and in the end possibly cheaper.

"It has to be a balance. There has to be something with produces the baseload, but it's what you do above that baseload which is important."


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