Electricity: are we at the tipping point?

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Courtesy of Energy Institute (EI)

On Wednesday 9 March, Durham Alumni and former Energy Institute (EI) President, Ian Marchant delivered a thoroughly engaging speech on the future of electricity. Co-hosted by Durham Energy Institute (DEI) and the EI, the event was very well attended and attracted a range of students, graduates, professionals and retired engineers.

Ian’s presentation began with a review of the rapid & sprawling development of technology. Ian used the example of his IPad to express how much information and technology has changed; whereas previously the thousands of songs, videos, books and other documents he owns would have required an entire storage unit, it can now all be held in the palm of one hand. This huge upheaval in technology was used as the analogy for the electricity industry which has also changed greatly over the last 30 years. As Ian continued to explore, this change is accelerating and the industry is possibly teetering close to a ‘tipping point’.

Ian continued to explore the strain on the energy industry with competing requirements for security, affordability, sustainability and public perception of energy just the beginning of the puzzle. Although the strain on the electricity industry formed the foundations for the speech, the room was not left pessimistic; on the contrary, Ian based the majority of his speech on what needs to be done by the engineers of today and tomorrow for electricity to navigated over or moved away from this so-called ‘tipping point’.

The need for innovation in energy supply was explored with Ian using his experience as Non-Executive Director of Aggreko to give examples of increased demand worldwide for renewable generation. The requirement for more decentralised and distributed generation was also debated, as was the necessary updates to an ageing distribution network to support this. In addition to various other points made, the use of data and technological advancements to help better control & manage our energy was presented as a critical point with increased control and efficiency at the point of use being a top priority.

Drawing the evening to a close, Simon Hogg of DEI opened up the room to a very active Q&A session. Varied questions came from around the floor and were presented to Ian, all of which he answered very comprehensively whilst using his industry experience to give real tangible examples to back up responses. Following the Q&A, a group of delegates led by Simon and Ian enjoyed an evening meal in Durham where the discussions continued to flow.

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