Who's got the power?

Written by: David Burrows Posted: 17/09/2018

BL58 Power illoAs the world shifts towards cleaner, renewable energy sources, where do the Channel Islands stand when it comes to generating their own power?

It’s hard for some of us of a certain age to imagine that one day we’d be able to control the heating in our home from our mobile phone, so that it’s nice and toasty when we get in from a hard day at work in the depths of December.

The fact is that the global energy market is in a state of transition, not only because of technology developments but also through decentralisation along with policy and regulation. 

In recent times, we’ve seen a shift from conventional single-energy suppliers to individual consumers taking a significant interest in how they want their energy supplied for their homes and businesses. 

As Ian Plenderleith, Group Managing Director of International Energy Group, explains, this changing, more empowered consumer behaviour can be witnessed through individuals and businesses increasingly investing in solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal systems, home improvements on insulation and heat pump technology.

“These initiatives, along with high-efficiency appliances and home energy devices, are changing the energy landscape,” he says. 

In addition to the ‘empowered consumer’, cross-border targets on greenhouse gas emissions – laid out initially in the Kyoto Protocol and then the Paris Agreement of 2015 – set the agenda for a concentrated move towards clean, sustainable and renewable energy. 

Over the 10-year period from 2005 to 2015, the share of renewables in the global electricity mix increased by approximately five to six per cent. While fossil fuels are still heavily relied upon to generate power around the world, evidence of a concerted shift to cleaner energy sources can be seen by following the money. 

In 2004, the world invested $47bn in renewable technologies. By 2015, this had increased to $286bn – up 600 per cent. With larger and ongoing investments in renewables and clean energy projects, the balance should, in theory, switch further towards them and away from fossil fuels in the coming years, particularly as costs and efficiency levels improve.

Carbon emission targets and the environmental impact of fossil fuels remain a focus, despite President Trump’s backward stance and climate change denial. In countries where pollution is at danger levels, the emphasis is on action not words. China, for instance, which has historically had to import large quantities of coal for energy, is now the biggest global investor in solar power.    

BL58 Power illoPower on the islands

Alternative power options are important to all countries – large or small. The Channel Islands have long been viewed as being overly reliant on power from France. 

While some countries are able to generate all of their own power, others are not – the Channel Islands fall into the latter category. Electricity is supplied from France and there’s no natural gas produced on the islands – liquid petroleum gas is imported via a number of supplier companies.  

So, is this in itself a problem and can current supply meet the islands’ ambitions in the years ahead – especially if demand for power increases? 

Alan Bates, Chief Executive at Guernsey Electricity, doesn’t believe the islands’ reliance on France is a danger – electricity from that nation has always been a secure and preferred option rather than an enforced and sole one. 

He also insists that supply isn’t a problem – even if power from France happened to be cut off temporarily. In 2014, the power link from France to the Channel Islands was indeed lost – but it was restored after two and a half hours. 

“Both islands do have a significant element of self-generation, so if we do lose power from France, we have the capacity to manage. We have at least two months of oil stocks on Guernsey.” 

Ian Plenderleith argues that the onset of electric transport, replacing combustion engine vehicles, will require greater supplies of electricity for all islanders. He explains how this challenge will be met. 

“We intend to install discrete distributed generation schemes that will include a blend of renewable energy and combined heat and power (CHP) technology – the latter being highly efficient electricity and thermal energy generation units with virtually zero NOx [nitrogen oxide], SOx [sulphur oxide] and particulate matter emissions. All these systems are designed to reduce the islands’ carbon footprint.”

Bates agrees that electric vehicles will have an impact on power demand in future years and that the Channel Islands are well set up to handle it. “Increased power demands can be met. This is helped, to some degree, by a general reduction in energy consumption due to greater efficiency,” he says.

In recent years, there’s been a dramatic change in housing build quality, with well insulated homes and businesses using only a fraction of energy that they once did.

Bates is keen to add that the islands are already focused on low-carbon energy. “It’s a combination of green aspirations and a concerted move towards independent energy generation – for instance, from wind, solar or wave.” 

He cites a 30 megawatt windfarm north-west of Guernsey and a community-based solar PV Ray project introduced in March, which has so far outperformed predictions. 

BL58 Power illoIsland policy

Enthusiasm for alternative energy options is a result of both consumer preference and defined policy. In addition to global clean energy objectives, the Channel Islands have their own targets. 

“With a new energy policy in Guernsey being developed and Pathway 2050 in Jersey, the key is to decarbonise the islands, as Europe has been progressing for some time,” Bates explains.

“During recent times, the cost of renewables has fallen considerably, making distributed generation schemes feasible. All this is good news for the environment and customers, as it will provide sustainable, secure energy at affordable prices.”

In addition to the solar and wind projects already outlined, wave technology is being embraced. Alderney Renewable Energy (ARE) has undertaken a project to enable tidal power generated in Alderney’s territorial waters to provide less expensive energy to the island (currently reliant on diesel-fired generators) as well as to European markets. 

While inevitably a cleaner option than fossil fuel power, ARE still had to factor in the environmental impact. It commissioned engineering consultant Xodus to prepare a scoping report, including seabed and marine wildlife surveys. According to an ARE spokesperson, from an environmental perspective, as with other renewable sources, tidal energy produces no greenhouse gases or other waste. 

However, unlike other technologies in the renewable sector, tidal energy is a completely reliable and predictable source of energy. It’s also a highly efficient form of energy generation. Compared with coal and oil at 30 per cent, tidal power efficiency is rated at approximately 80 per cent.

Is enough being done? 

While all these ‘alternative’ energy projects make for interesting reading, are they sufficient in number for the Channel Islands to realistically reach ambitious clean energy targets? 

Alan Bates accepts that the technology relating to wave, wind, solar and tidal energy needs to evolve further before huge strides can be made. However, he’s confident that success, particularly regarding efficiency and storage, will be achieved in time. 

“It’s really a question of improving storage,” he says. “Renewables often work best when you don’t need them – for instance, during the day when the sun’s shining. The challenge is that when excess power is generated, it can be stored efficiently.”

As efficiency improves, so should affordability. And as Bates explains, the market revolves around price. “The rapid reduction in the price of renewables will mean greater uptake of these power generation options,” he says. 

Greater uptake also means a higher percentage of energy supply being self-generated on the islands, providing greater independence. 

Plenderleith, like Bates, takes a positive view of the islands’ prospects: “I think that in a few years’ time, the Channel Islands will be a good example of how political will, policy and innovation all come together to deliver what’s needed to sustainably supply the energy requirements for a new digital economy.”

Share of renewables in electricity production

• UK: 2000, 3.36 per cent; 2017, 30.16 per cent
• World: 2000, 18.19 per cent; 2017, 24.80 per cent
• Global investment in renewable technologies: 2004, $47bn; 2015, $286bn

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