UK Conservatives Call for Smart Grid

The Conservative Party in the UK may be trying to one-up Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the rival Labor Party with its latest cleantech proposal, which calls for the creation of a smart grid that would cover electricity, gas and water customers, potentially cutting energy use and reducing emissions. The proposal comes a day after the Department for Transport approved a third runway for Heathrow Airport — a plan that will put a cramp in carbon reduction plans in the country.

While the plan from the Conservatives is part political party maneuvering — who can be “greener” — it would likely be implemented a lot faster than similar proposals in the U.S., where a national smart grid will likely get bogged down in state and local regulatory hurdles.

A single company in the UK, the National Grid (s NGG), controls most of the electric and gas distribution in the region. Whereas in the U.S., getting approvals from all the various public utility commissions could result in a patchwork approach.

A recent report on smart grids from the Department of Energy’s Electricity Advisory Committee warned that varying technologies could be built all over the place: “[D]ifferent smart grid improvements could be adopted by neighboring states or even utilities within one state.”

A DOE report from a few years ago said that the confusion over federal and state jurisdiction in electricity regulations has blocked the expansion and modernization of the grid. But change could be on the way with the new administration, and the House of Representatives has proposed putting $11 billion toward smart grid technology in a stimulus bill introduced this week.

The Conservatives in the UK said that under their plan they would mandate the National Grid to develop a smart grid. Party members are also calling for an increase in the use renewable energy, as well as a feed-in tariff, which they said could also be mandated by government.