Coronavirus’ effect on the energy sector
As offices, schools and other establishments close in an effort to contain the virus, some people are concerned about the stability of the grid.
Yet, aside from adjusting to the new conditions of working from home, Professor Phil Hart, Director of Energy and Power at Cranfield University, wants to assure the public that our present energy system shouldn’t meet any additional challenges.
“Our power transmission and distribution systems are extremely robust and over recent years energy efficiency measures means our overall power consumption as a country has reduced,” he said.
In fact, he claims, the disruption, far from straining the availability of energy, may actually free it up. Mitsubishi Electric estimates that as much as 20TWh of the UK’s electricity consumption is spent on air conditioning (10% of the total), including in offices.
Additionally, because fewer people are commuting using petrol/diesel vehicles and industry has slowed down, the virus’ effect has actually reduced CO2 levels worldwide - China alone has reportedly reduced emissions by 25%.
Meeting the demand for energy
Professor Hart believes that meeting the consumer demand for energy should be able to continue unabated - only an unlikely scenario, such as all energy workers being incapacitated simultaneously, could disrupt power stations.
“The advent and scale of renewables in our supply system is helpful here as the size of renewable plants is generally much smaller, and the national power system will be better able to handle withdrawal of multiple smaller sites,” he explained.
With regard to oil and gas supplies, Hart considers the recent pricing war, which has seen prices drop by 26%, to be indicative of an abundance of supply rather than a shortage.
This opinion is verified by a recent article by National Geographic, which contends that supply is so profuse that production has to be restricted in order to avoid the current US$30 for a 42-gallon (159-litre) barrel price from plummeting.
In any case, biomass and coal-fired power stations should be able to continue without foreseeable restrictions.
“I feel sure that major producers such as DRAX have contingency plans in place to ensure maintenance of their base load plant is kept up to date, so the overall risk of any issues with power supply is really quite small currently,” said Hart.
The effect on smaller companies
Whilst larger companies might have the resources to weather the financial storm, smaller energy providers may become concerned about their prospects. However, Hart is again sceptical that current levels of disruption would have a significant impact.
“Whilst there may be variations in daily use profile, changes in power flows through the grid, or modest reductions in power use potentially, none of these should be meaningful to the overall commercial supply and demand outcome.
“The only exception to this is if we see major users like industrial, manufacturing or chemical works shutting down, reducing the demand significantly,” he clarifies.
So far, there have been closures of car manufacturing plants in the US and UK, but no significant slow down for other crucial industrial and manufacturing sectors (chemicals, food processing, etc). Although this situation could change, so far, there is no cause for alarm.
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.