Smart systems and digitalisation – Britain’s net zero plans set out

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A smarter and more flexible energy system based on data and digitalisation are at the core of Britain’s 2050 net zero plans.

In a wide ranging set of documents the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and regulator Ofgem have set out updated plans for the transformation of the energy system.

Together the plans are estimated to reduce the costs of the energy system by up to £10 billion a year by 2050, by reducing the amount of generation and network needed to be built to meet peak demand. Up to 24,000 jobs could result by 2050.

The basis for the updated smart system plan is the April announcement of a 78% emission reduction target for 2035, as well as other goals including 40GW of offshore wind, the ban on sales of petrol and diesel vehicles in favour of electric vehicles by 2030 and the deployment of 600,000 heat pumps by 2028.

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These and other technologies including rooftop PV and battery storage as well as interconnections to neighbouring markets will need to be integrated into the energy system, pointing to the need for significant levels of flexibility and the use of smart technologies.

By 2030 and beyond, consumers could be providing flexibility to the system potentially around 13GW in combination with intraday storage. In a high demand scenario, flexibility could reach over 30GW by 2030 – three times the current flexible capacity – and almost 60GW by 2050, with almost half the latter from interconnections.

The plan envisages this flexibility to be facilitated by regulatory and market reform, investment in innovation and system digitalisation.

Under the plan by 2030 and beyond electricity storage should be deploying in the most optimal locations and at all scales. Storage should be providing significant flexibility to the system and replacing flexibility from traditional fossil fuelled generation as this is turned off. Long duration storage should start to help to decarbonise the grid and wider economy further, providing key services to the grid to integrate and maximise the use of offshore wind and other low carbon generation.

Reforms will be needed to improve the access of flexibility technologies to markets with stronger investment signals. By 2030 it is envisaged that all flexible supply and demand energy resources can contribute to their full potential, responding efficiently to available energy and network resources.

Dynamic, close-to-real-time markets should play an important role in ensuring that the most efficient assets are dispatched, with clarity on how this will be delivered across wholesale and balancing arrangements.

Digitalisation

The digitalisation plan envisages that by the mid-2020s the standards and regulatory frameworks will be in place to ensure energy data collection and applications meet best practice and that data assets are treated as open and accessible by default.

Planned also are a significant step-up in the visibility of assets across the system and new digital services, which will make it easier for people to know what data exists and how they can gain access to it.

By 2030 and beyond, system operators should have visibility of all energy assets, making planning, forecasting and operations quicker, more accurate and cheaper. Greater data access in the marketplace should support new business models and services, developing new market entrants participating in the energy sector providing tailored services to consumers using sophisticated digital platforms and addressing system needs via software rather than hardware.

These capabilities should underpin a secure decarbonised energy system, create market opportunities and new markets for information services and insights, provide confidence to investors, support research and benefit consumers from new products and services, according to the plan.

“We need to ensure our energy system can cope with the demands of the future. Smart technologies will help us to tackle climate change while making sure that the lights stay on and bills stay low,” said Energy and Climate Change Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

“The possibilities opened by a smart and flexible system are clear to see. They will not only allow households to take control of their energy use and save money but will ensure power is available when and where it’s needed while creating jobs and investment opportunities long into the future.”

As part of the document release the BEIS also has issued calls for evidence on the role and barriers of vehicle-to-grid/home technologies and on the challenges of large scale and long duration storage.