Posted: 12 June 2014
Comments (2)
Meeting of the minds

An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions isn’t a problem for the future – it’s a problem for now. Richard Smith, National Grid’s Head of Energy Strategy and Policy, explains why positive and informed debates like the recent one at the Hay Festival are the right way to find a sustainable energy solution.

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Meeting of the minds

Meeting of the minds

The Hay Festival - location for a lively and stimulating debate about the UK's future energy challenge.

"We were expecting a lively debate – and we weren’t disappointed."

Richard Smith - National Grid’s Head of Energy Strategy and Policy


The UK is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050

Source: 2008 Climate Change Act

“The recent energy challenge was the second time I’d attended such an event at the Hay Festival on behalf of National Grid. Such discussions are organised with audience participation very much in mind. Experts like myself and David MacKay from DECC were there to listen to the public’s opinions, test their ideas and explain the sometimes harsh realities behind achieving the necessary decarbonisation targets by 2050.

Richard Smith

Richard Smith – National Grid’s Head of Energy Strategy and Policy

“The talk was just as interesting second time round. Normally we debate these kind of questions with industry experts and stakeholders who are familiar with the technicalities of the problem. In this instance though, the audience brings with them their own perceptions and ideas – as members of the public, as people who have paid to be there, and as intelligent thinkers with a passion for ideas, whether it’s in the fields of literature, art, philosophy or science.

“So we were expecting a lively debate – and we weren’t disappointed. The session covered two main areas, demand and supply, and we touched on everything from how you can reduce demand in your kitchen to broader scale solutions like renewables, nuclear power and the electrification of heat.

“The pattern of the debate was telling. The audience immediately started with commonplace solutions like the type of devices people use in their homes. By the end though, the debate had gravitated to more profound issues, like how we all need to think more deeply about our attitudes and behaviours towards energy use, and how much we’re prepared to sacrifice as a society if we are to meet the energy challenge.

“It was good to see the audience grasp the complexities of the issue. Nevertheless, we need to be mindful that those at Hay were not representative of the whole population – and that there is clearly still a lot of work to do in communicating to the general public at large. At the same time, the event gave us an indication of not just the scale of the problem but also the ways in which we can solve it.

“Ultimately, the answer lies in open and informed debate between the Government, industry and public. As we prepare to publish National Grid’s 2014 Energy Scenarios, and the task confronting us is once more brought sharply into focus, the event at Hay is a timely reminder that education and collaboration are the best ways to help us make the right decisions in this time of energy uncertainty.”

  • Paul Gebhardt

    Dear Mr. Smith: I understand that the electric and gas utilities are in the process of converting their meters, making them also wireless routers. Although this would cut down on the man hours spent on reading meters by driving through streets instead of walking on premises, I believe another alternative would be far more efficient. This alternative would be to make meters internet enabled. Anywhere there is a vendor supplying internet service a meter could be reporting data usage once a month, using a very small exchange of data. Of course the meters should continue to have usage displays on them for customer viewing and verification. Wireless meters could be used in rural areas where internet utilities don’t exist.

    I understand there would be start up costs, but the savings over time would be significant. The main undertaking would be negotiating costs of using internet vendors. Or electric and gas, and other basic utilities (which internet is now), could pool together for a data collecting network of metering of their own.
    Utilities would no longer have the cost of having drivers in cars, using roads and gas.
    Customers would have the benefit of eliminating additional microwaves from wifi routers that utilities plan to or are currently using.

    Existing meter readers could then be re-trained and integrated into the new technology. I plan inform the utilities of my idea.

    I am asking you to confer with industry experts to see if this is indeed a viable plan that would save us all energy and reduce pollution.
    Paul Gebhardt

  • Richard Smith


    Thanks for your post. The GB smart meter roll out is a Supply Company led roll-out ie. the company you pay your electricity or gas bill to is the company responsible for deployment of your smart meter.

    I can assure you that there are a number of industry forums where the details of the smart meter programme is discussed, including the sort of idea you set out. Cyber security is one of hot topics in this area, as although internet enabling of smart meters comes with benefits, it also comes with risks, as ultimately physical energy infrastructure could be connected and controllable in this way.

    For more information on the smart meter roll-out, I suggest having a look at – this is the website of Smart Energy GB who are responsible for the national advertising and consumer engagement programme during the rollout of smart meters in Great Britain.

    Richard Smith, National Grid

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