Saturday, 19 September 2009

Can the UK manage investment in its energy infrastructure to avoid future brownouts?

(Our thanks to technology and policy futurologist, Chris Yapp, for the inspiration to publish this example). Here is an example of the use of a Southbeach grid, to clarify the factors that could lead to powere brownouts in the UK. The model clarifies actions and plans in the present, and possible futures.

If we decommission coal and nuclear power stations on current dates and energy consumption rises this will increase the possibility of brownouts on a scale similar to New England a few years ago. This can be alleviated by extending the lives of these power stations till new capacity comes on board. That reduces the brownout risk at one level. However extending the life of power stations beyond their design limits risks unplanned outages which are harder to deal with. What lowers the risk on one timescale raises risk of a different nature on a different timescale.

But a question remains? What can cause new capacity to come onboard?

To get more insight from this model, we have added an agent to represent the intention (potential) to plan and prepare for building new power production capability. This 'thought' can exist in the present, and it is what brings new capacity onboard in the future.

If it does not occur (not realised) then the brownouts will occur if the decommisioning continues. If the plans don't come about, they do not counteract the life extension projects, and the life extension will therefore continue, with the risk of unplanned outage risks.

Both extending the life of stations, and planning for new build, are useful (green), but are in some kind of opposition (tension). Both cannot fully 'live' together - and it is this tension we would explore for further analysis as indicated in the model below.

There are therefore three risks to power in the UK:

Risk1: If new capacity does not come on board in the future, brownouts will not be counteracted.

Risk2: The surplus life extension will lead to unplanned outages.

Risk3: Planning intentions in tension with extending the lives of the existing power stations.

Further analysis would proceed by interviewing experts around the three causes of uncertainty - centred on the focal point: planning. Over time, models would become more detailed, and more compelling, and the root causes of uncertainty would be revealed. These models could then suggest directions for changing the situation.

No comments: