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The flexible five: jointly facilitating the ‘operational dispatch’ of flexible energy

Winner of the Disruptor Award at the 2021 Utility Week Awards, Western Power Distribution’s Flexible Power platform has brought a handful of DNOs from competition to ‘convergence’ on delivering flexibility.

A joint initiative from Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, SP Energy Networks, Electricity North West and Western Power Distribution (WPD) – Flexible Power’s core function is the “operational dispatch of flexibility”, according to WPD DSO manager Ben Godfrey.

The 2021 Utility Week Awards Disruptor of the Year has thus far dispatched 1.1 GWH worth of flexibility from 25 GWH available via various embedded generators supported by smaller provision from flexible demand customers – totaling around £51 worth of reinforcement, according to Godfrey. The platform offers a single point of information for flexibility service requirements, with providers able to view locations, requirement data, procurement notices and documentation published by all five DNOs.

“I think  what makes it really disruptive is that we’ve caught the wave of flexibility, delivered a really good product, and then been able to successfully negotiate and facilitate the implementation across other utilities,” Godfrey tells Utility Week Innovate.

While WPD adopted Flexible Power into business as usual in 2017, subsequent investment cycles have brought new functionality, tools and calculators on stream. Godfrey describes 2020 and 2021 as the platform’s “crystallization”, in which the aforementioned DNOs came on board to agree a common approach and mechanism of delivery.

“We’re all in competition and in the middle of the price control, so there are elements of sensitivity, commercial aspirations and differences in approaches,” he adds. “To be able to mobilise this platform and spread it across the other DNOs at such a time has been challenging.

“But we think that this convergence and standardisation of an approach is going to be a real benefit to the wider industry and particularly to flexibility service providers,” Godfrey continues. “That is really the bedrock that has held the collaboration group together – we could do this all individually, but it’s not going to be as successful if we do.”

  • Supporting customers through this winter and identifying emerging vulnerabilities are among the key themes at the Utility Week Forum, which will take place in London on 8-9 November. Find out more here.

More of a push for flexibility

According to Godfrey, Flexible Power’s core participants are the owners and operators of flexible assets with whom partnering DNOs can establish where needs lie, devise contractual arrangements to take control of assets, and use them to create capacity on the network.

Once contracted, providers have access to a portal where they can declare asset availability, receive dispatch signals and view performance and settlement reports. By providing such service, the asset owner or operator then receives a fee.

“What we’re starting to see now is that there’s a bit more of a push for flexibility, particularly on a domestic level,” Godfrey says. “However, we don’t see the benefits of Flexible Power as a B2C model, we’re not trying to scale it up to capture all 23 million customers and the 50 million devices that they might have within their homes.

“We want to work with aggregators, virtual power point providers, and other retailers and suppliers to be able to onboard customers. Though they have a much more domestic focus, we’re looking for intermediaries to help upskill the public.”

Further integration

Alongside the growth of Flexible Power, Godfrey explains that DNOs are witnessing a wave of new flexible energy tools such as marketplaces and platforms to facilitate secondary trading which provide ever growing scope for collaboration to  support every facet of flexibility.

“Flexible Power alone isn’t going to deliver all elements of flexibility, we need to work with other elements of the market,” he says. “Our work from here is very much is about opening up data exchanges and ensuring that our processes are locked down and documented so that others can interact with them.”

In terms of continued platform growth, therefore, Godfrey explains that he sees a “big opportunity” in the further digitalisation of flexibility processes, and integration of third parties.

“To make flexibility work, you need a bit of competency in full chain delivery and flexibility from identifying where the network needs are, contracting with it, dispatching and settling it,” he says. “Some of those processes are manual, particularly around the onboarding of customers.

“One of the key things that we need to develop within Flexible Power is improved access via program interfaces – allowing third-party platforms and marketplaces to be able to share their digital information with us, and for us to be able to share our digital information with them. That will really help us attract a much wider audience.

“In order to really unlock the full benefit of flexibility across the whole system, we need to make sure that we can readily integrate with platforms that are going to be doing the much smaller aggregation and accessing deeper markets.”

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