Dieter Helm’s recommendations to create independent national and regional system operators to take control of energy system balancing would help third parties bring forward disruptive innovations for the energy system, says technology expert.

Proposals put forward by Professor Dieter Helm to establish an independent national system operator and create regional system operators (RSOs) to preside over balancing markets at a local level would work well, according to a senior employee of one of the leading technology suppliers to network operators.

Peter Jones, technology strategy manager in ABB’s power grids division, told a conference run by Utility Week’s sister title, Network magazine that the proposals, which seems to disregard the growing assumption that today’s distribution system operators would be well positioned to evolve into local system operators, could be “very attractive indeed”.

Speaking at Network 2017, Jones said that RSOs would be well positioned to “look across vectors”, taking an inclusive view of the flexibility benefits that heat networks and gas networks can provide, as well as electricity.

He added that the creation of independent RSOs would be welcomed by the growing numbers of third party companies – such as housing developers and local authorities – who are looking to develop business opportunities around the operation of flexible private wires networks.

“With some of the interest that we’re getting from companies that are not related to the utilities, coordinated independent planning for disruptive, innovative ideas seems a very attractive option indeed,” commented Jones.

The technology leader added that some of the most disruptive innovation in the creation of flexible networks is coming from this private wires space. He suggested that some of the quickest advances in flexible energy, making use of technologies such as energy storage and demand side response, will come from this space, rather than the regulated monopoly networks.

“I think that’s probably where the quickest movement will take place,” said Jones. “Whether it will turn out to be the best progress over the longer term, I don’t know. But it’s certainly where we are seeing most of the activity – and we’re talking about projects of hundreds of megawatts.”

Other speakers commenting on the Helm review broadly welcomed the addition of an independent viewpoint on the changes needed in the energy system.

However, Randolph Brazier, head of innovation and development at ENA, added that a lot of Helm’s recommendations for the creation of a more efficient, low carbon and flexible energy system are already being addressed by DNOs in projects like Open Networks, which is due to publish an interim report towards the end of the year.

Rachel Cooper, head of smart energy and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said that Helm’s report was an “important” addition to the evidence government must look at to shape its smart energy policies. She stressed however that it is “just one point of view” and said that a call for evidence will be issued “shortly” to gather wide ranging responses to Helm’s proposals.

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