How can off-grid home energy solutions support rural & remote areas of the UK?
Energy pylon damage has caused havoc for household supplies in the wake of Storm Arwen & Storm Berra.
As the aftermath of Storm Arwen & Storm Berra leaves thousands of homes still without power (at time of going to press), there are still many questions to be answered as to how or why weeks have gone by with some people still not having access to heating or hot water.
Despite some very rural areas in the UK still relying on oil powered heating systems, unless they have access to generators, when the power lines are down they too are without electricity.
As our storms are set to increase in intensity & regularity as a result of the influence climate change is having on our weather systems; how can we protect some of our most isolated regions from perpetual loss of power?
As our need for sustainable power from wind, sun or water increases, we still seem to be held to ransom by seemingly aged power line technologies to deliver power to some of the most remote regions of the UK. Despite there having been considerable advances made in design & technology of the pylon, if it is hit by a tree, storm or excessive snow; power interruptions & outages are inevitable.
Extreme hot weather can also impact on the transmission of electricity in power cables & can cause the cables to sag.
Most European countries have regulations in place to maintain a minimum distance between power lines and the ground or structures, in order to ensure that potential instances of electrocution or fires are avoided. (1)
Higher ambient temperatures require that the electrical current that passes through overhead power lines must be reduced to prevent the overheating of equipment. Warmer power lines can also result in decreased efficiency (de-rating). (1)
Gas networks which do not reach these areas, mean that some residents still have to rely on oil powered heating, despite the environmental impact this can have.
The first successful attempt to transmit electricity over long distances using overhead wires took place in 1882. German engineer Oskar von Miller & his French colleague Marcel Deprez successfully transmitted 2.5 kilowatts of electricity 57km along a telegraph line. (2)
We are all aware of the fact that there is a sprawling network of high-voltage electricity cables, or subsea interconnectors, under our oceans moving millions of volts of electricity between countries. However, these interconnectors are designed to move excess energy generated by other countries into a neighbouring countries national grid & not necessarily move it to rural hubs.
Interconnectors also come with a considerable price tag. The world’s largest subsea interconnector at 450 miles long, a joint venture with the UK National Grid & Norwegian system operator Statnett, started operation in October 2021, marking a major milestone in the UK’s journey to net zero.
The National Grid’s €1.6 billion North Sea Link (NSL) enables the trade of renewable energy between the two countries, with North Sea Link reducing the burning of fossil fuels in the UK & avoiding 23 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030. (3)
Burying underground cables in rural areas as an alternative to overhead pylons is a viable option & would reduce the impact on the physical environment, as well as provide a safe, secure & uninterrupted energy supply.
However, what alternatives are there for extremely remote areas when it comes to generating their own electricity & avoiding the impact of outages & or damage caused to National Grid power lines?
Home based solar electricity & storage
Hybrid generators commonly associated with festivals, outdoor events, humanitarian aid, broadcasting turns DC voltage collected from solar energy into AC. These hybrid generators come with varied sizes of batteries which act as storage for the accumulated energy, which is only released when required.
Hybrid generators can be installed anywhere & give constant power to homes, farms, construction sites & other off-grid locations.
Small wind electric systems
Small scale wind generators are a great compliment to off-grid solar power systems. However, wind generators require wide open, exposed areas so that they can access a continual air flow, making this option not a suitable alternative for those in urban or forest/woodland settings.
Micro-hydro turbines can be a very efficient & convenient form of small-scale renewable electricity. With the best locations being on steep hills with fast flowing water, this is not the easiest option in self sufficient energy supply.
How much electricity you can generate per year will depend on the seasonal water flows on your site. For example, a 3kW turbine running for 4,400 hours (about half of the year) will produce: 3kW x 4400 hours = 13,200 kilowatt-hours (kWh). (4)
Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2