As we move towards deeper levels of decarbonisation of our energy system, we need to change the very foundations of our energy market, says Electricity Networks Association CEO David Smith

“Data capture and analysis has been vital in providing insight for a project like Open Networks and it has been encouraging to see local networks use data to start to implement changes.”

As we move towards deeper levels of decarbonisation of our energy system, we need to change the very foundations of our energy market to ensure that it is properly equipped to deliver the energy we all rely upon into the future, and efficiencies must be made across the whole system. With great improvements in data capture and analysis, we are able to gain a much clearer picture of what the future grid needs to look like, and the path we need to take to upgrade our networks to a modern Internet of Energy ready to serve future generations.

Delivering an Internet of Energy – the basis of Britain’s smart grid – is one of the most ambitious projects the sector has undertaken, and careful planning is required to properly prepare local networks for more management responsibility. To facilitate this change, Energy Networks Association’s (ENA’s) Open Networks project recently published an impact assessment setting out our proposed blueprint for the future of Britain’s electricity grid for consultation.

The impact assessment, produced by global consultancy Baringa, has given us a steer towards Future World B, one of five Future Worlds that the project consulted on in 2018, receiving 47 responses from a range of different industry stakeholders.

It’s important that network companies build upon the success of the project so far in a cost-effective way. And when delivering this kind of change, it’s important to have enough scope to account for any problems that might arise from introducing new technology into the system. Future World B will allow network companies to deliver new flexibility markets, using smart energy technologies in homes, businesses and communities across the country as quickly and as efficiently as possible, while leaving open the opportunity for a radical decentralisation of our energy system for when those markets develop.

Data capture and analysis has been vital in providing insight for a project like Open Networks, and it has been encouraging to see local networks use data to start to implement changes. UK Power Networks, Scottish and Southern Energy Networks, Western Power Distribution, and National Grid ESO [electricity system operator] all moved to reinforce the network ahead of potential disturbances last summer. By offering improved protection to strategically located generators, further safeguards were installed to prevent disruption to the network, saving the customer £30 million, once implemented.

The introduction of newer technologies means it’s important that these local grid operators have access to as much data as possible, and are able to effectively manage their own local supply and demand to keep customers connected. To take one example, significant amounts of renewable energy, the addition of a nuclear power station, and cables connecting to Europe give the South East and South West of England dynamic energy environments for both transmission and distribution. Working together with the National Grid, the two distribution network operators were able to develop detailed network models, identified data flows, and established new connections processes to keep the regions connected.

It won’t be long before smart grids and algorithms driven by artificial intelligence will improve flows of energy across the country and in local communities. In order to get to this point, however, networks must be proactive in laying the foundation for the future Internet of Energy. The short-term work that is being done by the networks, such as the introduction of flexibility services into the market, and identifying key areas of the system that need to be reinforced to prevent disruption, is all work towards a long-term goal: a more integrated, flexible, and dynamic energy system.

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