Electric storage heaters are designed to take advantage of the fact that at certain times the demand for electricity is significantly less than the generating capacity available. As described earlier, when storage heaters were originally introduced this imbalance between capacity and demand was greatest at night, so electric storage heaters were programmed to draw electricity at night, hence their common name night storage heaters. A simple time switch at the meter was sufficient to turn them on and off at the right times. But what was true in the past is not true now, and will not be true in the future.
No matter, modern storage heaters can be remotely controlled to use electricity only at times when the generating capacity available exceeds the demand. All the technology to do this already exists. Provided that in any 24 hour period a storage heater can draw electricity for about 20% of the time it does not matter when this is.
Many people have written scenarios for the future of energy in Britain, and here are some of them. Electric storage heaters are equally at home in all of them.
These are scenarios which people have already written, and you are quite free to think that the people who wrote them are wrong, or even to write your own - it does not alter the fact that storage heaters are at home in any scenario.
In a few years time Britain will be getting almost all of its gas from the Siberian gas fields. The pipelines carrying it will pass through several countries, and travel above ground for thousands of kilometres.
This will make our supplies of gas very vulnerable to external events: for example in the winter of 2008 Russia cut off supplies of gas to the Ukraine and tens of thousands of homes were left without any heating.
The pipelines will also be very vulnerable to terrorist attack: on 10th March 2004 the BBC showed a television documentary on this, with the title “If ... the lights went out.”.
Electric storage heaters do not use gas.
Over the past twenty years many of Britain's fossil fuel and nuclear power stations came to the end of their lives and were or will soon be shut down. Decisions about how to replace them should have been taken twenty years ago; it is now not possible for their replacements to be completed in time. This will lead to a massive energy deficit, and power cuts at peak times will be inevitable.
Electric storage heaters use electricity only at off-peak times.
Fossil fuels, including natural gas, produce greenhouse gases, and if we are serious about reducing these we must develop alternatives to fossil fuels, including for heating our homes. Almost all the alternatives to fossil fuels, from wind power at one extreme to nuclear power at the other, produce electricity.
Electric storage heaters use electricity.
The Government wants 25% of our electricity to come from wind and has authorised the construction of many on-shore and off-shore wind farms. The problem with wind farms is that they do not produce electricity if the wind is not strong enough or is too strong, and the times when the wind is just right will not always be the times when the demand for electricity is at its highest.If you look at a weather map on tv you will see that Britain is small compared to the size of the weather systems which bring us our weather, and so it is not uncommon for the whole of the British Isles to have the same winds. During the very cold winter of December 2010 there were several periods when not one of Britain's wind farms, from the North of Scotland to the South of England, produced any energy at all for more than twenty four hours.
Electric storage heaters can be switched on only when both demand is low and the wind is just right.
Many people believe that wind energy is too unreliable, and that nuclear power is a better way forward for producing zero carbon electricity.
One of the characteristics of nuclear power stations is that there is almost no advantage of any sort in running them at less than full power. This means that at times of lower demand the surplus capacity can be used to provide electricity for processes using large quantities of interruptible energy, for example the manufacture of hydrogen for use as a fuel for cars and aeroplanes, and desalination of sea water to make fresh water for drinking and irrigation.
And of course electric storage heaters.
Storage heaters can of course use energy from solar power sources connected to the national grid, but they can also be powered by solar panels installed on your own property.
At one time people were being encouraged to take out loans to install solar panels which would be repaid by them selling their surplus energy to the grid, but the whole scheme was very poorly thought through and many people were left hundreds of pounds out of pocket. People with storage heaters might save money by installing solar panels without selling energy to the grid, but take expert advice before taking out a loan to pay for them.
©Barry Gray July 2020