The Future Power System Architecture - has it delivered?

Sacha Meckler, CEO of Meckon Limited, summarises the launch of the GB Future Power System Architecture report.
Published: Tue 26 Jul 2016

The Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) together with the Institution of Engineering Technology (IET) has launched the Future Power System Architecture (FPSA) report which was commissioned by the former Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The report outlines a vision of the changes that need to be made to Great Britain’s power system by 2030.

The need for a future power system architecture

Despite the rapid advancement of technology in the 20th and 21st centuries, the energy system operational paradigm has not changed much during this time. There have been incremental changes to energy markets, competition and the evolution of technologies in the energy sector, however none of this has been transformational. With the advent of new and advanced clean technologies such as distributed and renewable generation, the expected proliferation of electric vehicles and technologies such as heat pumps, the current operational system design is no longer fit for purpose.

The FPSA project seeks to provide a framework which will shape the changes that are needed to provide a safe, affordable and sustainable power system for Britain in the future.

FPSA findings

The outcome of the work is the identification of 35 different functions that must be enabled by 2030 for the new architecture to manifest in the electricity sector. 

These functions have been categorised into seven key drivers behind the architecture, and include the need for flexibility to meet changing but uncertain requirements, use of price signals and incentives, emergence of new participants, the active management of networks and the need for coordination across energy vectors, to name a few.

The report has highlighted that substantial new functionality will be required, and the nature and scale of change is transformative rather than incremental. Furthermore the changes will move towards a more distributed system, and will need to integrate and manage a far greater number of input and output factors to enable the system to operate. 

When the scope and scale of change needed on the system was compared to other international examples such as California and New York state in the US or Germany, the British system came up as the one which needed the greatest amount of change.

Despite this significant change to the system, achieving this by 2030 is deemed feasible in the report. The report explains that to achieve this, great effort will be required in order to overcome significant implementation challenges which arise primarily from the growing number of participants and technologies that need to be applied to the system and the fact that it is necessary to simultaneously make best use of the existing infrastructure. Further to this technical change, changes will be needed in energy market operation, commercial aspects of the system, and the role and relationship between consumers and providers of energy. This scope, scale and implications of these changes are unlike anything else that has been attempted before.

The good, the bad and the next steps

The FPSA is a significant and valuable piece of work. It has followed a rigorous system engineering approach to set out a framework and vision for the future British energy system. It provides a valuable baseline for further work, and has brought together thinking from various disciplines as well as providing an assessment of developments from other international contexts. It also flags the urgency and complexity of the challenge ahead and hence provides clear markers for policy makers on what is needed.

There are also significant gaps. Firstly although consideration and coordination of multiple energy vectors have been highlighted, a report of this ambition should have sought to go further on this front, as policy decisions should be made with an integrated and holistic view in mind. 

Telecommunications, although recognised as a critical component of the system, should have been treated as a function or (more likely) a driver in its own right. As has been identified after around seven years of government funding for energy network innovation, telecommunications cannot be treated as a commodity aspect of solutions when it underpins the operation of critical energy infrastructure. The lack of involvement of leading technology firms (such as Google, Amazon etc) was also seen as lacking in the formulation of the architecture, in particular as the approach, outcomes and next steps were seen as being very “utility” in approach/culture. This was particularly evident in the fact that although there was repeated mention of the need for change and flexibility, many legacy institutionalized ways of working were also heavily present, in the process and the findings.

Most of these shortcomings and a few others were readily accepted by the panels at the launch event.

The report and the thinking that has gone into it, certainly is positive progress, and there is broad agreement that much work is still needed and that the momentum of this theme must be maintained.

A plan of what is required next was also presented and will start with the imminent release by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS of which DECC is now a part) and Ofgem (the regulator) of a public call for information and consultation on smart systems, which will lead to mobilisation by the ESC in 2017. As a result of this, it is expected that headway needs to be made on the changing roles of the System Operator and emergence of Distribution System Operators in 2017 and 2018. 

What is clearly needed in addition, as was mentioned by one of the audience was “…action, and not just talking”.

Further reading

FPSA-About the FPSA project

IET-The Future Power System Architecture Project

Related Webinar