Stephen Breslin: A power of work needed to keep lights on

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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Educting the young on our energy needs is vital argues Stephen Breslin

Last Wednesday most of us will have arrived home from work and flicked on the lights and made a cup of tea as usual without realising that the only reason we could do this was because the National Grid was using new measures to keep the power on.

For the first time a new tool to balance the energy system, Demand Side Balancing Reserve (DSBR), was used to help manage the peak demand time between 5pm and 6pm, when families start to get home and cook dinner, but offices and factories are still open. This involved a small number of contracted large businesses being asked, under a commercial arrangement, to cut their electricity use.

The power shortage was caused by a number of factors including unexpected maintenance issues at ageing coal-power stations, which led to temporary shut downs at several power plants; low wind speeds, meaning wind farms were only able to produce 1 per cent of the UK’s required electricity, and no solar input, because the requirement happened when it was dark.

National Grid is clear that these measures are one of their many tools used to maintain a significant buffer of reserve power and that we were never moments from being plunged into darkness. Nevertheless, the need for these measures should focus our thoughts on addressing our future energy requirements.

Although this is the first time that this has occurred in the last three years it must act as a wake-up call to the public to help them understand the importance of planning ahead.

In order to find solutions to meeting our future power needs, there has to be a greater understanding of the issues of energy generation. This requires a new wave of young people to be inspired to consider their role in ensuring future generations have sustainable power sources. If nothing is done, matching supply and demand will only become more challenging as old coal power stations close and gas generators are mothballed.

The Powering the Future exhibition, based at Glasgow Science Centre, is the most ambitious exhibition ever mounted in the UK tackling the topic of energy use.

With the aim of giving the public unbiased information, the project, which has the support of the UK and Scottish Governments, hopes to increase the number of young people entering science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) based studies and careers.

Dr Stephen Breslin is chief executive of Glasgow Science Centre. The centre’s £1.5m Powering the Future exhibition opens on 10 December.