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Keeping the lights on

The electrical elephant in the room and the secret about decarbonisation nobody is being told.

The UK electricity generation and National Grid distribution system is broken. Without vast quantities of new nuclear power, current renewables tech will never be able to ‘keep the lights on’ because sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it’s not windy.

combined heat and power system

Decades of National Grid underinvestment during public and private ownership mean electricity distribution costs are rising, and ‘blackout belts’ where additional electricity simply cannot be supplied to commercial, industrial, and domestic users are increasing.

This is hampering investment and productivity in manufacturing, commerce, and the creative industries in the UK.

Adoption of commercial and domestic EV chargers and heat pumps is exacerbating blackout belts. The situation will get worse.

There are two rapid solutions to alleviate blackout belts: distributed energy systems such as ‘Peakers’ and onsite energy generation systems that include highly efficient combined heat and power (CHP), solar and battery storage fuelled by zero-carbon hydrogen, bio-methane, singas, synthetic methane, or green transitional grid methane.

CHPs convert fuel (zero-carbon hydrogen, bio-methane or green transitional grid methane) to energy at over 90% efficiency, 30% better than power stations when heat and power are fully utilised.

As they are located at the point of consumption, power transmission and transformation losses are also lessened, and the financial cost of grid transmission (non-commodity cost) is avoided.

These efficiencies mean that CHPs generate electricity at half the grid cost and provide heating or cooling as an addition for free. They are well suited to all more significant power users with electricity and gas bills over £400k pa, such as large offices, hotels and leisure complexes, manufacturing firms, food production, animal feeds and farming.

solar pv system

Today, a competitive electricity unit cost is 22.5p per kWh, and a competitive gas unit cost is 3.5p per kWh. Mid-sized CHPs require 2.3 kWh of gas to produce 1 kWh of electricity (and 1.1 kWh of heat). CHPs, therefore, deliver electricity for less than 10p per kWh.

The current market cost of CHP is approximately £1m per Megawatt installed. Simple paybacks of 2 to 3 years are the norm. As the market rate for electricity is 22.5p per kWh; anything below 20p per kWh is attractive to customers as a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) where a third party funds the capital costs and sells energy to the end user.

CHP systems, when combined with solar power and batteries, offer benefits in terms of immediate spend reduction cost savings and energy efficiency. Absorption chillers are also used to convert the heat produced into cooling for HVAC or refrigeration purposes.

Current delivery times are 12-16 weeks depending upon the complexity of the CHP system. This highlights the confidence in the effectiveness of these solutions in addressing black-out belt issues.

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