A future power system architecture for Britain

New capabilities are required to enable Britain’s power system to respond to the challenges of the energy trilemma.
Published: Mon 01 Aug 2016

The energy trilemma – decarbonisation, security of supply and affordability – is bringing new challenges to power systems the world over. The question is how they need to adapt to respond to these, especially given the sense of urgency to accommodate the changes that are occurring and to meet carbon reduction targets such as those from COP21.

This question has come under investigation in Britain in the Future Power Systems Architecture (FPSA) project. For the first time also, it has been subject to a systems engineering approach to develop the required outcomes and the ’functions’ and ‘systems’ to meet them. [Engerati-The Future Power System Architecture - has it delivered?]

The project was commissioned by the former DECC and led by the Energy Systems Catapult and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). [Engerati-Energy Systems To Get Catapulted]

Power system architecture

The primary objective of the project was to establish the new technical functions – 35 in total – that need to be implemented to plan and operate the power system in 2030 in response to new customer and user needs, to changing generation technologies and to electrification of heat and transport.

The current architecture is based on many decades of large, centrally dispatched power stations producing power as required. Supply is matched to demand via a transmission grid and local distribution networks and through centrally administered power trading and balancing arrangements. Demand is largely predictable and the majority is isolated from short-term price signals.

In contrast, the 2030 power system will be a sophisticated and intelligent infrastructure that enables diverse technologies, novel techniques, more active consumers and new business models to flourish with greater autonomy, while utilising assets efficiently and maintaining overall system resilience and stability.

So what might a 2030 power system look like in practice? To give some structure to ‘prerequisites’ such as the timing, sequencing and co-dependency of the functions, the project developed four ‘credible evolutionary pathways’, or ‘core concepts’ in systems engineering language.

These are as follows:

• Power sector adaptation: The power sector maintains business as usual accommodating incremental development, largely reactive and no expectations of major changes in customer behaviour

• Power sector leadership: The power sector takes a lead in engaging with customers; DNOs evolve to DSOs which coordinate with the GBSO (or ISO) for system balancing and constraint management

• Customer empowerment: The power sector becomes a facilitator empowering the emergence of new commercial parties, new business models and new services

• Community empowerment: The power sector expands its facilitation role, empowering smart cities and energy communities with local markets and peer-to-peer trading.

The respective sequencing analyses are presented in the table. Their differences clearly indicate the impact of externalities such as policy choices, which influence the timing and sequencing of individual functions on the pathways.

However, the pathways don’t influence the need for the functions themselves. The project report states that despite the differences in sequencing and triggering of functions, “there is significant evidence that the full set of the 35 technical functions will be required under all of them.”

The pathways, with the exception of the first, are also consistent with National Grid’s ‘Gone Green’ Future Energy Scenario, which was drawn on in the project as a baseline as that most closely reflecting the government’s decarbonisation objectives. Major trends to 2030 in ‘Gone Green’ include a rise of wind and solar to 46% of capacity (71GW); distributed generation reaching 17% of available capacity; electrification of heat and transport, with 3.3 million EVs and 6.6 million heat pumps; and extensive use of smart meters installed in 29 million households and small businesses.

Implementing the future power system architecture

According to the project report it is feasible to deliver the changes required for 2030, but the scale and complexity warrant special focus and urgency. Further, an effective response will require new organisational and governance capabilities to establish and energise the whole-system approach necessary for transforming the GB power system architecture.

Six key recommendations are offered:

• Align power system architecture development with major government policy commitments

• Ensure that there is an implementation framework for delivery of the required functionality

• Deepen and extend the functional analysis through further elaboration and refinement of functional requirements, assessment of barriers and analysis of timing pressures and interdependencies

• Develop a transition route map to ensure market mechanisms are maximised and government intervention is minimised

• Extend the evaluation and identification of R&D and innovation requirements to cover all the functionality identified

• Maintain the momentum developed in the project by formalising and supporting cross-industry and inter-agency working.

“If we are to respond positively to the challenges presented by the 21st century we need to rethink the way in which we balance competing needs around the energy agenda,” commented Nick Winser, chairman of the Energy Systems Catapult and chair of the FPSA Joint Sponsors Board. “Fundamental to our success is our ability to create the right conditions to support and implement truly innovative thinking, encourage meaningful conversations from across the sector and ensure that new services and techniques will work harmoniously across the power grid for the benefit of customers.”

The momentum has been set and it is now up to government through the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to further build and extend this. As the FPSA project report notes: “These developments are already having an impact on the GB power system and 14 years to 2030 is already a demanding timetable in view of what is involved in defining, designing, developing, risk assessing and testing …”

Further reading

IOT and Energy Systems Catapult: Future Power System Architecture project

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