A major consultation on the future of the UK’s energy networks has been launched as part of the Energy Networks Association’s Open Networks Project.

The “Future Worlds” consultation plans to deliver a “smarter, more flexible and more decentralised energy system” in a change that could save consumers as much as £40 billion by 2050.

It seeks views on five industry models designed to deliver the change by presenting a variety of options for the structure of the electricity networks into a smart grid.

In each scenario pylons, substations and other traditional forms of infrastructure will have to work alongside smart energy flexibility services to manage the electricity grid and use new consumer technologies such as electric vehicles, smart meters, battery storage and solar panels.

Research conducted by Imperial College London and The Carbon Trust found these services could deliver up to £40 billion of benefits across the energy system by 2050.

Developed through a series of stakeholder workshops, the future worlds range from a decentralised energy system where local electricity grids enable regional energy markets to balance supply and demand at a local level to a more centralised system where co-ordinating local energy resources is the responsibility of the national system operator.

David Smith, chief executive of Energy Networks Association (ENA), said: “The Open Networks Project is transforming the way our electricity networks work, unlocking a whole new range of benefits for households and businesses across the country.

“These future worlds represent a major change from the way our networks operate today, as they pioneer new ways to decarbonise our energy system to deliver new opportunities and reduced costs for households and businesses across the country.

“This consultation is key, not only to ensuring that we have considered the best options but also to ensure all stakeholders have their say in shaping the future of the electricity networks.

“The consultation also focuses on 23 key stakeholders in each of the future worlds, describing their role, how their roles and responsibilities will evolve to meet the challenges of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation, and how the five different future worlds will affect each of them.”

Ofgem, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and all 10 of UK and Ireland’s electricity network operators are part of the industry-wide project, now in its second year.

The project is separated into four main work streams: interactions across distribution and transmission; the customer journey; the evolution of distribution network operators (DNOs) into distribution system operators (DSOs) and network charging.

It will redefine the way electricity networks work in Britain and inform similar developments in the Single Electricity Market in Ireland.

Randolph Brazier, ENA’s head of innovation and development, said: “As we move towards our smart decentralised systems of the future, many stakeholders will see significant change and evolution of their roles.

“For some, these changes will be largely consistent across these five future worlds, but for others there is considerable difference.

“Stakeholder feedback is therefore key to this consultation, and we invite stakeholders to give us feedback on how we’ve envisaged their roles in these future worlds, and which world they believe works best for them and consumers.”

The five worlds are:

  • World A: DSO coordinates
  • World B: Co-ordinated DSO
  • World C: Price driven flexibility
  • World D: ESO coordinates
  • World E: Flexibility coordinator(s)

Following feedback from the consultation, each of the models will be submitted to an impact assessment that will inform the project’s work.

The consultation is open until 6pm on 25 September.

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