National Grid claimed, after the recent power cut that they had been efficiently supplying electricity without fault since the last time the same thing happened eleven years ago in 2008. Now, I’m paraphrasing slightly and the chap was rather less smug than this suggests but it still poses the question: whose efficiency and what about resilience?
For the National Grid, private shareholder owned company that it is, it makes little economic sense to cater on any scale for a once in eleven year event. It is ‘inefficient’ so to do. But I doubt it seemed ‘efficient’ to the thousands of train passengers who were stranded, or those who could not see in subway tunnels or at Newcastle airport – or just those caught in traffic jams because traffic lights were all out – never mind the million or so business and home consumers that were cut off. What was efficient for National Grid was distinctly not so for everyone else…
This is the privatisation dilemma. Individual responsibility does not goes as far as efficiency for everyone. In fact for the country as a whole we need resilience not efficiency, but, because private capitalism is portioned off into separate silos, someone else is responsible for resilience. The someone can fall only to ‘our’ government and resilience has either to be imposed by Offgen by law or there has to be a controlling share taken by government in relevant companies in order to ensure that same resilience.
Additionally, rail was particularly badly affected by the lack of power, yet it is transport by rail which is an essential response to climate change and which we need to be electrifying at pace and persuading people to use more and more. So we need to ensure rail’s resilience so it can be the default option for as much travel as possible. (Remarkably, whilst there is also a problem with some posh new Siemens, German built trains that cannot easily be restarted after a power cut, it has to be preferable to concentrate instead on ensuring that there are no power cuts to rail.)
For electricity the other notable point is that Britain is particularly suited to providing proper electrical resilience as it has probably the best ofshore wind resources of anywhere in the world. This electricity is cheap to produce, basically non polluting and can thus be sometimes wasted – in order to create resilience.
With Britain so well placed to offer this resilient electricity supply, there can be no possible excuse for not ensuring it.
All the more so with Brexit looming ominously over us.