They don’t sound like pioneers, but nevertheless three of Britain’s dullest companies joined forces last week for a surprisingly exciting project. United Utilities, a Warrington-based sewage company, Aggregate Industries, which is big in gravel, and Sainsbury’s, the supermarket chain beloved of the houmous-eating middle classes, have come up with something called Living Grid. It may represent a turning point for the way in which electricity is consumed in Britain. Their focus is squarely on green energy, the sort of sustainable, renewable power generated by wind and solar panels – a field in which slowly but surely Britain is becoming a global leader. A record 25 per cent of British electricity came from renewables last year, up 9 per cent from 2011. Not far behind Germany, the world No 1, with 33 per cent. Yet there’s a black shadow over all this green energy. Managing intermittent electricity that is heavily dependent on the weather poses a growing challenge for National Grid. Step forward our three flag-b earers for Living Grid. Using new technology, big companies such as these can power up at times when there is a surplus or down when there is a shortage of renewable electricity. Sainsbury’s, for example, can whack up its refrigerators by a notch, or temporarily turn them off to trim demand. United Utilities can switch on pumps to process dirty water. Aggregate Industries can sluice water from its quarries. Unlike homes and offices, these companies don’t care much about what time of day they use power. They are just as happy to do so at 4am on a windy Sunday morning as at 5.30pm on a Tuesday, when national electricity demand peaks.
Times 9th May 2016 read more »