Incorporating the Simple Living Review, the Preparedness & Self-Reliance Review, as well as the Outdoor & Survival Review

Fragility of the power grid

by Michael Smith

The catastrophic failure of only two electricity generating plants in Britain, including the nuclear power station “Sizewell II”, in May 2008 should really have brought home to all and sundry but at least and especially to those in power that something must be done to protect the people and the country's infrastructure from such an event ever occurring again.

While I do know that there will always be the possibility of a fluke incident, as this may just have been one of, this, however, proves how extremely vulnerable we are in this country – and probably not just in this country alone – due to our highly centralized electricity generating industry.

Also to a degree the fact that most of our utility companies are foreign owned, and one is hard pressed to find one that is still a British one. Even “nPower” whose agents keep claiming that they are a green company and wholly British is foreign owned, namely by RWE of Germany.

The majority of our power stations are huge, not to say, gigantic, and far, far away from where people live and the power is actually consumed.

They, as individual stations, supply millions of households, as well as businesses, hospitals, schools, and so on.

The total failure of already only one of those can cause severe problems and also put a strain then of gigantic proportions onto the national electricity grid. If more than one station goes out then we are getting into serious trouble already and the power will, probably, go out to tens of thousands of homes, businesses and other places and this, obviously, can have rather serious impact on so many things. In some cases such failures can cause loss of life.

Fritz Schumacher in his books “Small is beautiful” suggested the things that we are, I know, finally coming to, namely localized power generating plants and people thought him crazy in those days of the 1960s when everything that was being build in that department had to be ever bigger and hence further away from the actual electricity consumer. And the fact that those stations then supply thousands upon thousands of homes, businesses, offices, and other establishment has then tremendous negative implications in the even of a failure.

Local power generating plants, as once advocated by F Schumacher and others, myself included, are now, finally, being looked at and they also make sense not just in the supply issue and the issue of a failure of the huge power stations.

Locally generated electricity can be of a lower voltage rating than that which is being generated far away and needs to travel a long distance. The power loss over the long distance in the cables is being compensated for by the extreme high voltages with which the electricity is leaving the power stations, in many cases those are 20,000 volts and more.

In order to generate that amount we waste a lot of resources and locally generated electricity would be better for everyone and here we could work on less than 1,000 volts and more than likely even directly at commercial and domestic current.

Both the environmental aspect of small local power plants and the savings in resources are important on the level of protecting the national infrastructure as well as the environment. Thus local CHP facilities, for instance, would kill two birds with one stone and also that many of those could be powered, say, by methane from sewerage plants or from waste wood and thus reduce the impact and also our reliance on oil and gas.

The fact is that those large power stations are not as economical as they once were tauted to be for they do waste a lot of resources in the production of the very high current that is required in order to transport the power over the long distance that it has to travel to its final destination, the end-consumer, to you and me at home, to our offices, factories, schools and hospitals, and everywhere else.

While the UK currently still produces oil and natural gas and is even a seller of same on the world market in the not so distant future Britain will have to become, once again, a net importer of oil and gas and then we are at the mercy of the likes of the Russian Federation and other such states and can be held to ransom over gas and oil supplies.

Smaller power stations, and here ideally local area CHPs, can go a long way towards this country's self-reliance as far as electricity is concerned, especially as other fuels can be employed here, as already indicated.

This would be good, as said, as regards the protection of the environment and the protection of the infrastructure of the nation.

© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009

No comments: