UK energy system policy needs to keep up with technological change, report says

Small-scale technologies are disrupting the UK’s energy market, but the energy system – and the government – are not keeping up with the pace of change.

That’s according to Green Alliance, a charity and independent think tank, which says that with rapid developments in solar panels, onshore wind, electric vehicles and battery storage, greater flexibility is needed in the energy system.

Its new report – People power: How consumer choice is changing the UK energy system – calls on the government to “actively govern the transition to a smarter system”.

People are increasingly choosing to be energy owners, for example by investing in solar panels, allowing them to take back at least some control over energy production. Yet one in five of the UK’s local grids are still unable to accept feed-in from distributed energy like rooftop solar.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of drivers are choosing electric vehicles. But currently, just six electric cars charging in close proximity at peak times could overload the grid and disrupt local power supplies.

Green Alliance wants the government to require smart charging infrastructure, which reduces or cuts off car charging to avoid times of peak energy demand. The think tank estimates that by 2025 up to 700,000 electricity users could suffer blackouts due to a lack of smart chargers.

“If we get it wrong, the result will be emergency policy making and higher bills,” says report co-author Caterina Brandmayr in a blog post.

However, if policy keeps in step with technology it will ensure a smooth transition to a system in which centralised, large-scale technology operates alongside distributed, small-scale energy, giving consumers real choice over energy generation and consumption while cutting costs.

“The government cannot avoid the problem, but if it wants to maximise its role in improving market decisions, it should actively govern the new energy future which is rapidly unfolding,” the report concludes.

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