Security of supply – the customer experience

15th May 2017


When the energy world talks about security of supply the debate often centres around which country do we buy our oil/gas/coal from? How secure are they? Is there a risk of price spikes as a result of insecurity?

But I want to bring the debate closer to home, energy security is also about how reliable is the method of getting energy into the consumer’s house?

So I was surprised to hear last week, that on average a gas network consumer has their supply interrupted once every 150 years compared to an electricity consumer once a year. Now, having spent plenty of time in the developing world, these figures are pretty damn good. I wonder though, which is more accurate a figure to quote – “that the gas network is 150 times more reliable than the electricity network” or “ that the gas network is 150 times less unreliable than the electricity network”? Let me know what you think.

At the same meeting last week, I also was reminded of an incident which took place recently, where a house builder managed to fracture a gas main and cut off several thousand homes. (The once in 150 years I mentioned). The gas network, I won’t name them as it would spoil the rhythm or flow, immediately took to the scene with fan heaters to try and help the stranded residents. Upon reaching the scene, they were told that their help had to be restricted by the electricity network, because their network couldn’t cope with the extra load. So instead of 1000 fan heaters, only 300 were issued to the most vulnerable in the community.

Electricity network capacity is a real constraint on any move to shift users from gas heating or petrol cars, to electric alternatives. To do one would be brave, to do both foolish. If you then factor in the need to erect more pylons, not the most attractive feature on the landscape, and sub stations – with all the associated cost, and you can perhaps see why the gas network is seen as central to delivering a secure, affordable and low carbon energy future in the UK.

 Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE