'smart' energy technology

‘Smart' technology will cost us billions - and thousands of lives



The electricity industry is  at the forefront of the Government’s eco-plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, and at least 80 per cent by 2050. To achieve that, our dependence on fossil fuels must be drastically reduced in favour of electricity generated by a mix of nuclear and renewables – which will involve defacing our country with at least 7,000 additional wind turbines.

The obvious problem with this ‘decarbonisation’ is that the wind doesn’t blow all the time.

In fact, it is common during the coldest periods in winter for there to be no windmills turning anywhere in the UK – just when energy demand is at its highest.

The simple answer is to build dozens of flexible gas-fuelled power stations, says Richard North

The simple answer is to build dozens of flexible gas-fuelled power stations to provide near-instant electricity when the windmills fail to deliver,  so guaranteeing cheap and reliable electricity for industry, schools, hospitals and homes. But these have failed to materialise and it has become clear that what is in store for us is ‘demand management’ – effectively an advanced form of rationing.

‘Demand management’ turns the accepted priority of the electricity industry on its head. Rather than adopting a system capable of meeting flexible demand from a varied network of power stations, the nation’s electricity supply will be fixed, even though this means it cannot always meet demand. Instead, demand must be ‘managed’ by stopping customers from using electricity.

This is done by changing the price of energy, at five-minute intervals, according to supply-and-demand principles. Rates at peak times may be ten times or more that of the dead of night, when electricity use is at its lowest. And in an extraordinary Big Brother move, energy suppliers will effectively reach inside your homes to shut down appliances or prevent them being turned on.

To achieve this unprecedented degree of control, suppliers need  to invest billions in a ‘smart’ grid, ‘smart’ meters, and ‘smart’ appliances. Unsurprisingly, consumers will foot the bill.

It is common during the coldest periods in winter for there to be no windmills
turning anywhere in the UK - just when energy demand is at its highest

For the National Grid to become smart, it has to be modified at a  cost of an estimated £27 billion – the price of two giant nuclear power plants – to enable it to collect information about the behaviour of  customers and micro-manage power distribution.

This grid will talk to the smart meters, supposedly to be fitted to all of Britain 30 million homes by 2019, at a cost of at least another £12 billion, but probably much more.

When there is not enough electricity to go round – which will be routine in only a few years’ time – power cuts will be avoided by shutting down millions of individual smart appliances, using computer chips fitted by manufacturers.

These appliances will also be  programmed to switch themselves on and off according to the electricity price, leaving the washing machine, for instance, only able to run at  2am or 3am when prices are rock-bottom – unless the  owner pays a punitive premium.

If this all sounds like science fiction, it isn’t . . .

At the end of last year,  on the Danish island of Bornholm, a four-year, £17.5 million EU-funded experiment, EcoGrid, was set in motion. More than 2,000 homes were kitted out with smart meters, and washing machines, TVs and computers were networked, ready to be controlled by the local utility company.

The project hopes to tackle the problem of unpredictable wind by providing each household with an electric car. When the wind blows  at times of low demand, the smart grid will divert this ‘wrong time electricity’ to charge the batteries of the cars. When the windmills stop turning and no electricity is produced, the grid finds all cars still coupled to the mains and takes the stored electricity back, a concept known as ‘V2G’ or ‘vehicle to grid’.

This, they hope, means black-outs will be avoided. The consequence is that at peak times, the cars may no longer be available for use.

But then there is the other side  of the coin, the dark side of this ‘seismic shift’ in energy policy (the phrase used by former Energy Minister Chris Huhne before his career came crashing down around his ears.)

The plan is to double the price of electricity by the end of the decade, even though it is already twice as costly as it was a decade ago.

This will be done through George Osborne’s carbon tax, windmill subsidies and other levies, all to make the investment in the technology economically attractive – for those who can afford it.

That is where the fantasy falls down. Already, thousands of pensioners and families are being driven into fuel poverty. As a result of this year’s freezing conditions, more than 6,000 extra deaths were registered in February and March.

Campaigners at Age UK say 26,000 people die needlessly in winter every year, and for every one degree drop in average temperature, there are about 8,000 extra deaths.

The Government’s disastrous energy policies will cripple our industry and prove ruinously expensive for all but the wealthiest  householders. Millions of us will be forced to choose between eating  and keeping warm. But for hundreds of thousands of our most  vulnerable citizens, the so-called ‘green revolution’ could be fatal.