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Invest now so we can thrive in a smart future

Invest now so we can thrive in a smart future

Prospect negotiations officer Mike MacDonald says we must invest in our skills and new technology to drag our aging energy systems into the 21st century.

Some parts of our current electricity system are 50-year-old power stations with substations of a similar vintage. Although Ofgem sees this as a mature industry with low financial risk, maybe all is about to change?

Over the remaining five years of the current RIIO-2 price control, we could see more change than in the previous 25 years of the privatised electricity industry.
Predicting change is easy, delivery is difficult. So what does innovation mean for consumers, employers and for staff?

As we see the gradual demise of the traditional centralised utility model, how do we shape the future so Prospect members have the skills for the challenges of the future?


Forces of change

Three key areas of change are shaping the power sector: energy storage, smart grids and offshore wind.
With more complex power flows and financial pressure to avoid costly network reinforcement, battery storage offers part of the solution to ensuring that consumers get a consistent reliable supply.

At this stage battery storage helps manage the system, rather than replace large power stations.
The development of battery technology places an emphasis on project management, rigorous health and safety and for control engineers, managing an ever more complex network.

Much of the debate about complex smart grids is over simple and not too smart. The current smart meter programme is crucial, to getting the data needed to run these systems.

However, we need to invest professional skills to develop a complex system that responds to high levels of embedded negation and anticipates change in both demand and supply.

While we can run the system more efficiently, significant investment is also required to prepare networks for innovations such as more use of solar panels, electric vehicles and heat pumps.

Offshore

Storage and smart grids may allow us to make better use of scarce power but the development of offshore wind remains a key part of a more balanced energy policy.

Larger turbines with more efficient blades have the potential to increase efficiency and reduce cost so that wind power can compete without subsidy in the future.

However, as with all innovation, this requires the development of skills in project management, asset management and operational practice if the consumer is to benefit.

As we shift from a traditional passive electricity supply model to a more active smart set of interconnected networks, a similarly active approach to innovation and skills is needed.

Crucially, regulators need to focus their efforts so our members get the training, finance and support for change needed to apply their professional skills to the new smart world.

All Prospect members in power are affected: securing high quality training to deliver high skill, high salary jobs is just as important for workers in renewables as in the historic core of the sector.

This is a global change: if we get it right, then our expertise will open a vast export market for British business. But without a focus on skills, innovation will not deliver quickly. Does Government have the vision to work with Prospect and other stakeholders to meet this challenge?

Mike MacDonald

Mike MacDonald


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