Guest Blog: Randolph Brazier
What will be the role of decentralised energy in the UK’s energy future?

10th October 2019
Group Legislation Urban Reserve

In our latest guest blog, Randolph Brazier, head of innovation and development at the Energy Networks Association, discusses the role decentralised energy will play in the future energy mix.

The UK energy sector is entering a time of unprecedented change. As a result of the government legislating to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050, there will be fundamental changes to how the energy system operates, including mass electrification across a number of sectors, placing a significant increase in demand on the grid.
AMP Clean Energy caught up with Randolph Brazier, head of innovation and development at Energy Networks Association (ENA), to discuss his views on the role decentralised energy will play in the future energy mix.

What role will decentralised energy play in the UK’s future electricity system?

Without doubt, decentralised energy will have a huge role to play.

Currently there is over 30GW of distributed energy connected to local electricity networks – the distribution networks – of which 85 percent is renewables and a mixture of batteries and other technologies.

We can only see that this will increase as demand for electricity becomes higher, particularly with the uptake of electric vehicles requiring more power from the grid.

Using such distributed sources for flexibility is going to be critical to maintaining the stability of the grid. It will help ensure there is enough capacity, and to help minimise the need – and cost – of network upgrades.

So, the current level of distributed energy will grow beyond the 30GW we already have connected – which is already quite large from a global perspective – as the demand for electricity increases.

How can flexible, distributed energy enable low-carbon technology and support the intermittency of renewables?

Obviously, a key consideration when using renewables is mitigating any intermittency, and ensuring there is still back-up power if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.
As such, flexible generation such as batteries, demand-side response, vehicle to grid, and smaller distributed assets will be crucial as they offer control of when and how they can be used.

These will be critical to:

  • Mitigate the intermittency of renewables
  • Help with ancillary services for the grid, for example controlling frequency, voltage and capacity.

We see flexibility as critical to enabling low-carbon technology – without flexibility we would not be able to develop and integrate the renewable energy we need to reduce our carbon emissions.

That’s why we have set up our Open Networks Project, which looks at how we can make it easier for businesses with flexible technology to connect, and both enable them to access new revenue streams, as well as help the grid when and where it’s required.

What needs to happen to the grid to meet demand?

ENA’s Open Networks Project is dedicated to transforming the way our energy networks operate, and making the networks smarter, agile and more active players, for example by being able to react closer to real-time demand.

Part of this includes enabling new markets, so the grid can use third parties to help release capacity and subsequently remove constraints on the networks, in turn providing new revenue streams to the businesses that have those technologies.

We are also looking at the decarbonisation of heat and transportation, for example, electric vehicles, hydrogen etc, and are running a series of innovation trials to better understand what works and what doesn’t, so we can support the government to implement the right policies and invest where it is needed.

What are the barriers to flexible generation?

There is still an element of uncertainty on how much flexibility the networks will need, so we are trying to find ways to forecast this. As part of the Open Networks Project, and some of the innovation trials, we are looking at how we can more accurately forecast and give greater certainty and better visibility on what is coming up.

Another issue is the barriers to for the growth of electric vehicles. A lot of demand will be driven by uptake of electric vehicles, and at the moment, there are still major issues surrounding this, for example the cost of vehicles and range anxiety.

No doubt better forecasting will give people more confidence on when and where networks will require increased flexibility.

Following UK Power Network’s flexibility auction – in which AMP Clean Energy was a successful participant – does the ENA believe other DNOs will follow its lead?

I think that consistency across networks in terms of systems and processes would help encourage more participation in flexibility tenders.

We also need to undertake more stakeholder engagement – to explain what a DNO is and how flexible providers can help.

Overall, we need better certainty on terms and conditions, contracts, prices and communications – this is why we launched our Six Steps for Delivering Flexibility Services, which looks at standardising the different steps in the flexibility journey to give more confidence to the industry.

For example, we are producing a clear methodology for how we procure flexibility and what the cost-benefit analysis is. And, then reporting back on what has happened, so we better understand the trends moving forward.

What will the future of the energy network look like, particularly against the backdrop of net zero?

We want to help renewables and low-carbon technology connect to the network quicker and easier, and help providers understand how they can pair low-carbon technologies with flexibility to earn additional revenue streams.

In terms of the future structure of the grid, there will need to be more co-ordination and collaboration, not just among transmission and distribution. We will need to share data and co-ordinate better with other distributed assets, so we take a more of a ‘whole system approach’.

What is certain is that there will be new players – and a lot more players – in the market. In particular, there will be more decentralised energy, and as a result there needs to be stronger collaboration, with networks working together even more efficiently.

What is clear is that the more flexibility we have across both distribution and transmission – using decentralised and low carbon sources – the better we can help manage the future system.

ENA is seeking input from flexibility providers, asset owners and distributed energy providers on how it can better serve them. To do so, please join the Open Networks mailing list by contacting: opennetworks@energynetworks.org

ENA has also launched its Network Innovation Competition Call for Ideas, which has £90m of funding up for grabs across Gas & Electricity. The Call for Ideas closes on 8th November, and can be found on the ENA’s Network Innovation Collaboration Portal – https://www.nicollaborationportal.org/

Its annual Low Carbon Networks & Innovation Conference takes place in Glasgow on 30-31 October, more detail can be found here – http://www.lcniconference.org/