UK Power Networks puts forward ‘flexibility first’ vision

The UK’s largest electricity distributor has proposed adopting a "flexibility first" approach to the delivery of extra grid capacity, in a move that could bring renewable energy onto the network at a lower cost.

UK Power Networks has this week revealed plans to “supercharge” local markets for flexibility services, which rely on customers changing their energy consumption or generation to balance network demand, possibly by creating them itself.

According to UK Power Networks’ estimates, demand for flexibility within its licence areas could exceed 200MW by 2023 as energy storage solutions are installed in ever-more homes and businesses

UK Power Networks believes that the actions outlined in the document would create new opportunities for flexible energy resources such as renewable energy “in response to the rapidly changing, decentralised, decarbonised and digitised energy landscape”.

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, but at a lower cost.

“The Flexibility Roadmap proposes a radical rethink to the way we do business, moving away from automatically building new assets and instead giving the distributed energy resources market the opportunity to offer their services,” said UK Power Networks’ director of asset management Barry Hatton.

“We are not just talking about how we’ll manage the future of energy, we’re doing it right here and now. If the market can provide the capacity we need at a more cost-effective rate than building new infrastructure, that’s exactly what we will do.”

Specifically, UK Power Networks believes that the actions outlined in the roadmap will lower costs for consumers by delaying or avoiding expensive grid reinforcements, increase the resilience of the network and provide new sources of revenue for flexibility providers.

To ascertain how it should best meet demand for flexibility, the company has launched a consultation on its Flexibility Roadmap. The consultation will run from August to 8 October. If accepted the proposals will come into effect from 2019.

Earlier this summer, UK Power Networks unveiled its plan to create the nation’s first “virtual” solar power station by the end of the year, using PV panels on the rooftops of its London customers’ homes.

 Energy future 

As the proportion of the UK’s electricity generated from renewables continues to increase, the way in in which the nation’s energy system operates is undergoing a string of changes.

Because most renewable generation is intermittent, this makes it much harder to balance supply and demand on the grid, creating a new opportunity for generators and consumers to provide flexibility as a resource to balance the system while supporting decarbonisation efforts.

Indeed, 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.

 Sarah George 

Comments (1)

  1. John Twidell says:

    Good article Sarah, thanks. However renewables of wind and solar are ‘variable’ (i.e. which implies changing intensity), not ‘intermittent’ (which implies entirely on or off, like nuclear). Thus these key renewables can be predicted in advance for generation into the grid, mostly as the weather forecast to 2 or 3 days ahead. Other renewables are less variable and certainly not erratically intermittent (e.g. hydro, biomass), tidal is predictable hundreds of years ahead! Of course, the most variable of all is the consumer load. Managing all this is not difficult for the grid controllers.

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