Dealing with “Beast Mode”

Article written by James Higgins published originally in the April edition of  H&V News Magazine.

By the time of reading, I have no doubt that the daffodils will be flowering and memories of the longest and coldest winter that many can remember receding. However I write fresh from the final blast of winter with Storm Emma and the Beast from the East combining to deliver the coldest March day on record and significant snow disruption across the UK.

The performance of the heating sector during this intense period of cold weather and the winter as a whole has been nothing less than exceptional. Despite the headlines, the UK never realistically looked like running out of gas during the Beast from the East/Storm Emma with the National Grid Deficit Warning having exactly the impact it was designed to of pre-warning large industrial and commercial users that they might need to scale down consumption. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of call-outs in all sorts of weather have taken place to help individual consumers keep warm.

It has been interesting to observe supporters of different forms of low carbon heating future use these events to support a particular world view. For example, those who support electric heating (powered by renewables rather than the current electricity mix) used National Grid’s deficit warning as a perfect casus belli for reducing the UK’s dependency on imported gas. Others bemoaned the lack of UK gas storage (which the Daily Mail highlighted), whilst the Wind industry highlighted the fact that the UK would have needed even more gas for electricity generation without the contribution from wind power.

My feeling is that these voices represent a white noise within mainstream and social media in which extreme events are increasingly used by proponents of a particular viewpoint to present their existing arguments as an infallible truth. This applies to all sides and types of events, for example many will have read or heard ill-advised green campaigners use a heatwave as proof of climate change for example.

The past winter has demonstrated to me personally (my own boiler broke down in December) and professionally, the critical importance of the heating sector to health and well being of the nation. National Grid would argue the use of market signals and levers for flexing demand has proved to be effective and is fit for the future. Few could argue with deployment of further energy efficiency measures to reduce the amount of heat generation we need, however it feels certain there will always be a heat generation requirement which peaks during rare but extreme weather events

Whether it is hydrogen injection, green gas or electrification, any heat decarbonisation pathway must pass a high bar of reliability and security, as well as being affordable for those who are struggling with energy costs. For those working on these issues, I think the main thing we can take from the cold weather is a timely reminder not to take the relative ease with which we can keep warm for granted.

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See the original article from H&V here