‘System architect’ needed for Britain’s power grid decarbonization transition

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A ‘system architect’ role should be established to ensure a holistic approach to adapting Britain’s power grid to meet the challenging and complex new requirements resulting from decarbonization, a new report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) recommends.

Describing decarbonization of energy as probably the biggest peace-time change to national infrastructure that Britain will have seen, the report says that fresh thinking is needed to address the potentially disruptive changes to electricity supply security and the cost effective operation of the grid.

The challenges cross conventional industry boundaries, and extend also into the policy arena. Coordinated action by government, industry and a wide range of stakeholders is needed, and learning from international experience must be maximized. It is essential to look at the challenges and develop solutions from a “whole system” perspective to address the many interdependencies involved.

“Britain’s electricity sector is grappling with the triple challenges of decarbonization, maintaining security of supply, and affordability to customers,” commented IET Fellow Dr Simon Harrison, chair of the Power Network Joint Vision (PNJV) group which prepared the report. “We have an opportunity to act in ways which reduce cost and create worldwide opportunity for innovation and U.K. leadership.”

How to establish the functionality of a ‘system architect’ whether by an existing party or parties, or by creating a new body modelled on experience from other sectors, remains subject to further consultation and analysis. While not directly comparable, helpful lessons may be drawn from the roles of the GSM Association in the mobile phones industry and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) among others. These agency-style groups work with their sector’s stakeholders to develop codes and standards, and have a governance role in their implementation.

Other recommendations for various stakeholders are:

  • Government/industry stakeholder groups should explore and address effective interactions between engineering, market and regulatory aspects to determine changes needed
  • DECC/Ofgem should develop the regulatory arrangements that will enable demand response and distributed storage to participate in maximizing whole system synergies and the mitigation of risks
  • Network companies should together determine how to address the impact of a data rich environment, including the mechanisms for improved internal and external data exchange
  • Network companies’ procurement arrangements should facilitate greater access for specialist providers to bring benefits in smart grids, demand management and new customer services
  • Network companies, IET and other interested parties should work out how to address the requirements for increasing engineering, commercial and business complexity, including the means to access skills and research and test facilities, and the sharing of knowledge.

The report, Electricity Networks: Handling a Shock to the System, is available HERE