UK network operators unveil new measures to boost flexibility

The UK's six local electricity network operators have jointly committed to set new requirements for all new network infrastructure to include "smart" flexibility services, as more renewable arrays come online nationwide.

The pledge, which has been made today (13 December) by Electricity North West, Northern Powergrid, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, SP Energy Networks, UK Power Networks and Western Power Distribution, will see all new “relevant projects” of “significant value” designed in a way that will build more flexibile capacity in.

Under the new requirements, the installation of services such as on-site generation, demand-side response and energy efficiency measures will become a pre-requisite for project investment.

Once the mandates are implemented next year, the grid operators will test the market for these services, comparing the costs associated with their installation and maintenance to those required to build traditional energy infrastructure.

The commitment is being orchestrated by industry body the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which will publish a forecast of contracts tendered by network companies for flexibility services by the end of March 2019.

“Like so many other parts of our world right now, the public is starting to see that their energy system is undergoing an important digital transformation,” the ENA’s chief executive David Smith said.

“Our energy networks are committed to operating an efficient, smart, clean energy system that is fit for the British public, and this commitment will enable new energy markets across the country, creating new opportunities for people to further benefit from the latest smart technologies being used in their homes and businesses.”

The commitment comes after research from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) concluded that “smart” flexibility technologies could, if installed at scale, reduce the cost of new energy infrastructure by £8bn annually by 2030.

Similarly, the value of the EU’s demand-response measure market is anticipated to rise from its current level of £680m ($0.9bn) to more than £2.6bn ($3.5bn) by 2025.

Flexibility first

The new joint pledge comes shortly after UK Power Networks (UKPN) announced it would adopt a “flexibility first” approach to the delivery of extra grid capacity, in a drive to bring renewable energy onto the network at a price parity with traditional generation methods. 

The company claims that if flexibility services were made available to the 8.2 million buildings it serves, new markets for distributed renewable generation would open across London, the South East and the East of England. It speculates that such increased competition would result in a higher proportion of renewable power being bought onto the network, at a lower cost.

Since adopting this approach, the network operator has begun the UK’s first trial of Faraday Grid technology – innovative hardware designed to balance the intermittency and volatility of renewable generation.

It has additionally released details on how it will roll out 25 “flexibility first” zones across its distribution networks in London, the South East and the East of England – areas where demand for flexibility could collectively exceed 200MW by 2023.

Sarah George

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