Welcome to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP)'s blog. The DECC YAP is a group of young people aged between 15 and 25 from all over the UK, with a wide-range of backgrounds, from academia to activism.

Our aim is to inform everyone and anyone about DECC's activities and likewise to help DECC understand and take into account the concerns of young people. We are a medium of consultancy and conversation. Much of our work looks at finding a 'Pathway to 2050', reviewing how energy with be supplied and used in the next four decades, so follow us and join us on the journey!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Royal Electricity Surge: why 'grid balancing' is important

Electric smile: there was a 3000MW demand drop as the Royal couple appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
The Royal Wedding may have been all over our TV screens for months, but here's some coverage of it you probably didn't see. National Grid reported soon after the wedding on the dramatic changes in electricity demand they had to deal with. When the live coverage returned back to the television studio and viewers reached for the kettle, a 2400MW surge in electricity demand was experienced. This is equivalent to boiling nearly one million kettles.

This perfectly demonstrates the problems the National Grid face when dealing with electricity supply. This surge is the same size as the capacity of two a half Hinkley Point B nuclear power stations, nearly two thirds of Drax coal power station (the UK's largest single emitter of Carbon Dioxide) and 1200 Scroby Sands-size wind turbines at peak output. You can easily imagine how finding this sort of energy for only a few short minutes presents a problem for the grid.

It also demonstrates the changes the electricity system will have to go through to see increased renewable energy output. You can't determine when the wind will blow, and the tides aren't going out all the time, so demand will have to be made to work around the environment or energy will have to be stored. This 'Smart Grid' that can manage this will revolutionise the way we use energy and smart meters, which we'll be looking more closely at over the next few months, are the first step on the way to this.

The next steps are more complex. Already the UK has grid connections to Europe so it can buy and sell electricity when supply and demand between nations is favourable. Electricity is already at cheaper at night, when demand is low, and more expensive at peak times; with smart meters, electricity prices may be on 'time-of-use tariffs', fluctuating more precisely depending on overall supply and demand. Electric cars may become giant batteries that spare energy can be stored and sourced from. Hydro-storage such as at 'Electric Mountain' may become more common. Appliances such as washing machines may turn on automatically when energy is more readily available - and cheaper.

This surge in demand wasn't the largest ever experienced by the grid - that was a 2800MW spike at the end of England's penalty shoot-out against West Germany in the 1990 football World Cup. Not even the Royal Family can compete with football, it seems.

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