UK’s electricity grid ‘not as secure as Jersey’s’

Jersey Electricity has invested heavily into its critical infrastructure making it more reliable than the UK’s grid, claims local utility chief.
Published: Mon 12 Jun 2017

Jersey’s electricity grid is ‘more resilient than ever’ and is more reliable than the UK’s network, according to Chris Ambler, Jersey Electricity’s chief executive in an interview with local newspaper Jersey Evening Post.

Over the last 10 years, hundreds of millions of pounds of investment has been ploughed into Jersey’s energy infrastructure. The island’s infrastructure plans were also ramped up after the failure of two undersea cable connections with France in 2011 which led to a number of power cuts.

The utility took steps to boost supplies by installing two new submarine cables, costing £110m which was in addition to an existing interconnector. A new £12m primary substation is currently being constructed in St Helier on the lower slope of Westmount Gardens to improve its security of supply.

Security of supply-No cast-iron guarantee

According to Ambler, the utility is in a ‘much more secure place now than the company has ever been before’ in terms of how resilient its infrastructure is. He explains: ‘We have got three interconnectors from France, across two diverse routings. One of the cables is buried completely under the seabed and connects to a different part of the French network from the other two. ‘We have, of course, got La Collette, which is a standby generating facility, so if there is a problem with the French network we can fire that up.”

Ambler added that while the utility is ‘better placed than ever before’, incidents do occur.  He said: ‘I say to all my customers that we cannot give a cast-iron guarantee over security of supply.’

While the utility tries to make Jersey’s network absolutely fail-safe, it is not financially viable, according to Ambler. He said that the utility advises customers, which operate critical services and processes, to undertake their own risk assessments and ‘decide for themselves what the appropriate mitigation might be.’

‘So if you are a hospital, you may be advised that, as a precautionary measure you should get a local provision for UPS [uninterrupted power supply] or a standby generator, and we have got customers who have done this. That is much more efficient than me investing hundreds of millions of pounds to effectively gold-plate a network. If I was to try to do that it would cost a lot of money to the point where it would fundamentally weaken the economics of the product.’

Three times more reliable than the UK

According to power regulator Ofgem, for every 1,000 customers, just under 50 experienced an outage in the UK during 2016 but Ambler insists that Jersey’s network is more reliable than the UK’s.

Says Ambler: ‘Last year, we had an all-island power cut, and even with that, we were still three times more reliable than the UK. From the beginning of the financial year on 1 October through to the end of April, we were around ten times more reliable than the UK.'

UK’s grid not ready for tomorrow’s energy future

With the rising increase in electricity demand across the UK and its renewable energy developments, the UK’s infrastructure may be overdue for an upgrade, according to a report published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The UK government's policy to close all coal-fired power plants by 2025, coupled with the closure of the majority of the country's ageing nuclear fleet and growing electricity demand, will leave the UK facing a 40-55% electricity supply gap.

The report's authors recommend that the UK's National Infrastructure Commission assess the necessary incentives for industry and the public "to reduce the demand on the electricity system through engineering efficiencies into processes and equipment, awareness raising and advocacy".

It is also suggested that the Commission “urgently implement changes necessary across the industry and supply chain" to deliver security of electricity supply with no coal-fired generation. These include investment in research and development around renewables, energy storage, combined heat and power and innovation in the creation and establishment of power stations.

Added to this is the country’s electric vehicle future which cannot be supported unless the infrastructure is upgraded to accommodate the demand from the estimated five million extra car owners who are looking to switch to EVs in the coming years. This is according to a survey conducted by car website Carwow. The survey is a result of interviews carried out with  2,029 motorists and it was found that 18%  pledged to switch to the economical vehicles by 2019.

Alex Rose, head of trading at Carwow, said: “Urgent action needs to be taken by our future government to invest in the infrastructure needed to allow Britain to embrace the electric revolution. As an industry barometer, dealing with 30,000 enquiries per month, we’ve seen the demand for electric cars has doubled across the UK’s major cities, as consumers are becoming more aware of green alternatives in everyday life.”