A group of influential MPs has called for the National Grid — the electricity power network that covers most of the UK — to be split up and made more like the system used in the US.
In a cross-party Energy and Climate Change Committee report released on Friday, MPs said the National Grid was currently rife with potential conflicts of interest — especially concerning renewable energy sources like solar power, which are having trouble connecting to the grid.
The report said the UK should adopt regional and independent operators to stimulate competition and allow these upstart power generators to connect more easily to a network. This could be done with an American-style setup — namely using an Independent System Operators (ISOs).
“The government should set out its intentions regarding an ISO as soon as possible and consult on a detailed, staged plan for their implementation, so as to avoid injecting uncertainty into the energy sector,” says the report.
However, a spokesperson for National Grid said to the BBC: “There is little evidence that an Independent System Operator model would provide any benefits that would justify the cost to households, potential disruption to much of the energy sector, and the risks to security of supply such uncertainty could create.”
The Energy and Climate Change Committee report says that ISOs operate in three of the USA’s largest states — California, Texas and New York — and that “the importance of having an independent system operator, in our view, is that it is independent of government, as well as independent of National Grid.”
Angus MacNeil, chairman of the committee, said the National Grid’s technical expertise could be outweighed by its own self-interest, and that “the independent system operator model has worked in the US. It is time for it to be brought to these shores.
“Distribution networks have been overwhelmed at times by the challenge of integrating small-scale renewables,” he added. “The UK needs clean, renewable power, but it won’t be built if it’s too costly or difficult for generators to connect to the electricity grid.”
The National Grid is a privately-owned company listed on the stock market.
At the moment it covers England, Scotland and Wales. It also has two interconnector power links to the European continent, with plans to build more. This is a concern to the committee, which says it “would like to see greater competition for new interconnector developments in the future, particularly given potential conflicts of interest relating to National Grid’s interconnector holdings.”
Despite the recommendation, the report gives no indication on whether any new ISOs should be privately or publicly-owned.
Jonathan Marshall, an energy analyst at the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told the Guardian that he agreed it was time for an energy upgrade in the UK.
“The committee is right to suggest that we have a 20th-century grid that isn’t fit for the 21st century,” he said. “With the national infrastructure commission, EnergyUK and others also calling for a move to a flexible grid, it’s clear that the system desperately needs upgrading.”