On Friday last week, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 featured some items about a report just released from the National Infrastructure Commission, which describes how Britain (lucky thing!) is perfectly placed to kick off a “smart power revolution” and become a world leader in all things low-carbon. Here’s a transcript of one segment:
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Justin Webb: Let’s talk about electricity, which is going to be quite a feature of today’s programme – big report coming out today from the people who have been asked by the government to look at our national infrastructure and come up with big ideas about how it can be altered and used more efficiently, and they’re telling us we must use electricity differently. Roger Harrabin, our Environment Analyst, is on the line. What’s the point of what they’re saying today, Roger?
Roger Harrabin: Well, I mean, this is the problem, Justin. The commissioners say that we need an absolute revolution in energy. We’re facing massive problems, so the coal power stations are closing, we’ve got to decarbonise the economy and the whole electricity system – that’s problem number one.
Problem number two is a lot of the sources that’ll be coming onto it will be intermittent – so the wind doesn’t blow when we want it, it blows when the wind blows.
And then the third big challenge, which I think most people have not quite grasped yet, is the UK is committed to taking virtually the whole vehicular system – all our cars, cars on the roads – onto electric, during the 2030s and then after, then heating our homes with electricity, too. So not only is there more intermittent demand [sic] but that demand will be even greater than it has been before, putting enormous strain on the grid.
Justin Webb: And the solution?
Roger Harrabin: Well, the solution, they say – we have to really revolutionise things, this, we’ve got to look at flexibility on the grid and we’ve got to look at storage. So storage is kind of obvious – we build batteries and we build all sorts of other devices, maybe storing energy in liquid air or perhaps in compressed air, there’s all sorts of ideas, some of them which we’ve featured on the programme already.
But I think the thing that will really interest people is they envisage a really entirely new system in which your fridge, your freezer, your washing machine, your dishwasher, your car battery will in some way via an internet of energy be linked to all my gadgets, some solar panels on my roof if I had one, my wind farm if I had one, a nuclear power station, all of those things will be linked together. And in order – that will happen in order to let us use electricity more flexibly, so when power is cheap, you will be able to turn on your washing machine – in fact, it will turn on, itself – and then when power is scarce, the internet will ask your freezer “Justin’s freezer, do you mind if we turn you off for half an hour so Mrs Bloggs next door can put on the supper?” and your freezer will say “Yes”. And this is – this is the future they envisage.
Justin Webb: What could possibly go wrong? [Business correspondent Tanya Beckett is laughing uproariously in the background.] Roger Harrabin, thanks.
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Indeed, what could possibly go wrong? Actually, I think Roger’s correct, in that the brave new British revolutionary intermittent interwebs of energy thing described above will really interest people – in fact, I’d go further and say the scenario has “interesting times” practically written all over it…