WORDS Lynn Schofield
OK, so we’re the sunniest place in the British Isles and we have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world so why aren’t we getting all our electricity from these “free” sources of generation like everybody else seems hell bent on doing? Because that big nasty monopoly Jersey Electricity won’t let us, isn’t that why? Err . . . no actually. In fact, our little Island is somewhat ahead of the power game when it comes to our electricity supply.
Fact one: Our supply is already virtually decarbonised and is currently 10 times cleaner than the UK’s supply. So while the UK and Europe is desperately striving to reduce carbon emissions by cleaning up its electricity generation, we’ve already done it. Renewables can’t reduce your carbon footprint in Jersey.
Fact two: Our supply is very secure and reliable, not just by offshore island standards; we’re also doing 10 times better than the UK when it comes to power cuts.
Fact three: Already a third of electricity supplied in Jersey is from renewable hydro sources in the form of the La Rance Tidal Barrage and Power Station in France, that 220 million units a year or enough to power 30,000 homes using an average 7,500 units (kWhs) a year.
But enough of facts and figures, what’s going to happen in future? Well, the power players at JE insist they want to get local renewables into the energy mix – they’ve already announced plans to enable ground based ‘solar farms’ on brownfield sites – but it has to be at a fair price for all and that means no subsidies.
The world added 98 gigawatts (GW) of solar last year, over half in China, long the world’s biggest consumer of coal. But many consumers are seeing higher energy bills due to ‘green subsidies’. The UK ‘Big Six’ suppliers have increased retail prices by an average of 24% over the last 18 months. In Jersey, prices have risen just 2% in four years. Germany aims to have 80% of its power from renewables by 2050 but has the highest electricity prices in Europe, with prices on average around 40 percent higher than Jersey. Some scientists believe a 100% renewable world is within grasp. But producing electricity renewably isn’t the problem. Producing it securely and cost effectively when it’s needed most is.
Jersey exceeded its record peak demand three times in one week this year, reaching 178MW on 1 March. Put in perspective, theoretically, even with the most technologically advanced panels, it would take an area of 445 acres, or 356 football pitches, of solar panels, working at full capacity (which is impossible in March) to generate enough power to meet that load. Peak demand occurs around 9.30pm on a winter’s evening and of course in darkness solar panels can’t generate much.
Balancing the grid between supply and demand becomes increasingly challenging with the introduction of intermittent power sources such as wind and solar. The answer lies in storage; stockpiling surplus power when the wind blows and the sun shines to be used when demand peaks when the wind has stopped blowing and the sun stopped shining. But batteries are very costly.
Hydropower is one of the oldest energy storage systems. Reservoirs store rainwater to be released, when needed, to turn electricity-generating turbines. Again, already a third of Jersey’s electricity is from such sources.
Without adequate storage, countries are sharing power by moving it thousands of miles along High Voltage transmission lines. Continental Super Grids of the future could mean solar power from the Sahara being used in European capitals. Here in Jersey, albeit on a small scale, we are already moving low carbon power from its French sources to where it is needed via our three high voltage, undersea supply cables. Known as Normandie 1, 2 and 3, they put Jersey in a unique and enviable position by giving it access to affordable, secure and sustainable sources of electricity. With all those boxes ticked, the suits at JE are now focusing on what they call ‘demand-side’ measures’ because new technology, energy efficiency and demand management will also play an increasing part in both reducing emissions and individual energy bills.
In this respect, we are again ahead of the UK. While the mainland’s Smart Meter roll-out falters, Jersey is in the final stages of an £11m four-year project to provide us all with a Smart Meter linked to an online Smart Account that enables us to monitor our electricity use day by day and identify how changes in consumption behaviours can affect bills.
Going forward, even the way we pay for electricity could change. Bills based on kilowatt hours (units) consumed could be replaced by an ‘energy-as-a-service’ model paid for by monthly subscription. Certainly, in many countries, the energy system of the future won’t look like today’s as electricity producers, consumers and those that do both (“prosumers”) – take advantage of new energy technologies and digital enablers.
The ‘Internet of Energy’ would optimise power generation and demand by ensuring that all grid-connected assets, from nuclear power plants to coffee machines can communicate and interact with one another. To meet surges in demand, for example, at half time during major sporting events when everyone puts the kettle on, fridges and freezers might be run on minimum for 10 minutes to even out the flow of energy. Appliances could be connected to use energy when it’s at it cheapest. Electric vehicle (EV) owners could communicate with energy companies, charge overnight and allow the grid to use the stored electricity at times of higher demand next day.
But all this is being driven by the need to decarbonise. Here in Jersey we’ve already done that. And the only way to reduce emissions further and help to halt runaway climate change is to increase energy efficiency and abandon fossil fuels in favour of electricity for transport (which now accounts for a third of Jersey’s total emissions), heating and cooling our homes and workplaces. Therein lies the Island’s challenge for the future.