The energy landscape in Britain has been transforming towards a dynamic and flexible system, and the energy networks have been at the heart of this change.

Over the last ten years, Britain’s energy networks have been thrust onto the frontline of Britain’s decarbonisation efforts, and have already reached 50% low carbon electricity production connected to the electricity networks. Through ENA’s Open Networks Project, they have been laying the foundations of Britain’s future smart grid, and with improvements in data capture and analysis, and better commercial arrangements, the route towards a modern ‘Internet of Energy’ now has a much clearer path.

Part of the transition includes evolving the role of local electricity networks, which requires careful planning. To enable the networks to make these changes, the Open Networks Project recently published an independent Impact Assessment and will be consulting on the proposed path to move us towards an Internet of Energy, the basis for Britain’s smart grid.

It’s vital that network companies are able to see a realistic path forward, and the Impact Assessment, produced by global consultancy Baringa has given us a steer towards Future World B as the initial starting point.

In 2018, the project consulted on five potential future worlds, receiving 47 responses from a range of different industry stakeholders. Future World B presents a ‘least regrets’ starting point, and allows companies to start from the energy landscape of today, and build upon it in a rapid but cost effective way.

It’s important for the strategy networks follow to have room to both address any problems and maximise any opportunities that arise from introducing new, low carbon technology into the network, for all stakeholders. Future World B gives the networks a realistic platform to begin to transition from Network Operators to System Operators by improving interactions across transmission and distribution, delivering flexibility markets that reflect the continued uptake of renewable technologies by homes, businesses, and communities across the country.

This kind of change is one of the most ambitious projects the networks have undertaken, and data capture and analysis is vital in providing networks with the information they need to efficiently manage the networks and increase capacity for customers while at the same time as decarbonising the grid.

The newly created Energy Data Taskforce by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy seeks to break down the silos that data currently sits in – enabling and encouraging innovators to improve services to customers.

Combining the Energy Data Taskforce with the forthcoming Energy White Paper announced by secretary of state Greg Clark, serious progress is now being made across the whole sector to look for new solutions to decarbonise and pass the benefits on to customers. Renewable energy technology is advancing faster than ever. With the number of energy ‘prosumers’ climbing, the combination of better capture and analysis of data and regulatory barriers being broken down will help to deliver the Internet of Energy.

The Open Networks Project is already starting to make a difference to how the energy sector operates and networks are being proactive in seeking out opportunities for change already. Western Power Distribution (WPD) last year launched its Network Flexibility Map – a signposting service which provides flexibility service providers with direction on future network needs, by providing predicted system needs in a geographic area. Markets for flexibility services already exist at the national level, but are still in their infancy regionally – meaning networks are having to constantly innovate and find solutions that never existed previously.

The Flexibility Commitment puts this into practice, with DNOs agreeing to open up requirements for new network infrastructure to include flexibility service providers – enabling new energy markets and fresh opportunities around the country. WPD’s Network Flexibility Map has created a platform where data can be shared openly, and is now essential to driving performance and efficiency in the future.

The adoption by all DNOs of new flexibility platforms in the last year shows what the future of a decentralised world could look like, but also shows that the sector is prepared to learn by doing and make it happen. Through matching local generation with demand, end users have more control over how they use their energy and benefit from it. By making the market more visible to end users and networks alike, areas of congestion can be highlighted and the network can adapt accordingly – minimising disruption and maximising choice for customers. Data and information sharing is breaking down barriers and moving the networks to an open future, and allowing the networks to unlock flexibility services before the networks become too congested.

Britain has one of the most dynamic energy landscapes in the world and networks are the leaders in transitioning to a decentralised world. In the not too distant future both nationally and locally, smart grids and artificial intelligence driven algorithms will improve energy flows, but getting to that point requires joined up thinking at every level.

Networks have already started laying the foundation for the future Internet of Energy: identifying key areas that need to be reinforced to prevent disruption, and introducing flexibility services into the market. Short term work that will lead to the long term goal of a more integrated, flexible, and dynamic energy system.

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