Grid flexibility and resilience – key to future energy networks

Britain’s Future Power System Architecture project is identifying the needs of the 2030 electricity system.

Call it what you like – the utility internet of things, industrial internet of things, or as in UK the Future Power System Architecture (FPSA).

But regardless of name, there are two fundamental requirements that must be met in the future power system – flexibility and resilience.

The scenario should by now be familiar to anyone involved for any length of time in the energy sector.

Growing levels of distributed generation and storage at homes and businesses, the emergence of prosumers and community initiatives as these users start to manage and trade their energy, new options such as blockchain for payments, new players such as aggregators to provide these and other services, and growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) as transport is decarbonised.

Leading this transformation is the United States and Europe, different countries at different – and unpredictable – rates, indicating the challenges facing the sector in how, at a high level, it needs to evolve to ensure the flexibility and resilience that is required in a system of increasing complexity of power flows and players.

A Future Power System Architecture for UK

In order to get a sense of how to build in these requirements we turn to the FPSA project in the UK, which was initiated by the then Department of Energy and Climate Change, and reported by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and Energy Systems Catapult in July 2016.

The IET's report describes the 2030 power system as “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.”

It identified “35 new or significantly modified functions” required to meet 2030 power system objectives.

These are grouped under seven major drivers, as follows:

1. The enhanced need for designed-in flexibility and agility for identifying and responding to changing requirements. Changes include uptake of new technologies (e.g. domestic generation and storage, electric vehicles, heat pumps) or active consumer participation (e.g. smart tariffs, home energy automation).

2. The change in mix of electricity generation to achieve policy targets, including intermittent renewables and distributed generation, which will require new techniques to manage system frequency, stability and reliability.

3. The emerging need for aligned incentives enabling customers to benefit from responding to price signals and the system to operate more efficiently.

4. The emergence of new participants such as smart cities, groups of technology users, aggregators and social enterprises, which will require new modes of interaction with the power system.

5. The requirement for active management of network, generation, demand and other services using smart network techniques.

6. The challenge of managing major events, emergencies and system recovery as the power system becomes more decentralised.

7. The emerging need for coordination across energy vectors (electricity, gas, biofuels, petroleum and heat networks).

Moving forward with FPSA2

In addition, the work covered other aspects such as the timing and sequencing of the functions. But it was ultimately a foundation and with support from Innovate UK, it is now being taken forward in in the next phase (FPSA2).

“The long-term goal is to develop a shared vision among all stakeholders of what we want the power system to look like,” Simon Harrison, who is coordinating the FPSA activities, told Engerati in an interview.

FPSA2 has several key goals, of which one is to deepen understanding of and check the completeness of the 35 functions previously identified.

Another is to define how these functionalities can be enabled against a continually changing background, and another is taking a ‘counter-factual’ approach to investigate the outcome of maintaining the current ‘business as usual’ approach.

Another key deliverable will be an identification of the research and development needs, while another will be a better understanding of the consumer requirements.

“During the first phase of FPSA we came to realise that the stakeholder set at the grid edge and consumer side of the meter is as large and complex as that on the utility side and in FPSA2 we are engaging more widely and deeply with that group,” says Harrison.

“While consumers, communities and business offering technology and services around the grid edge are not used to a shared dialogue with mainstream utility companies, we hope to facilitate it in order to create the shared understanding of where the industry needs to go.”

A further strand in the stakeholder engagement work package, commissioned from the University of Southampton, is what promises to be an interesting and visionary social science-based outlook on the needs of 2030 consumers and how they might be interacting with the electricity system.

The final two work packages are focused on overall project management and dissemination of the outcomes.

2030 power system architecture

“It’s a challenging programme and we are in new territory with a lot of this work,” Harrison comments, adding that future phases of work will be necessary to get to the shared vision along with an R&D programme and tests of enabling frameworks.

However, and as the first FPSA report highlighted, there is a clear sense of urgency underlying the work.

“2030 was selected as far enough away to be challenging in terms of the trajectory to low carbon and the technology transformation but not so far away as to be intangible – and it is not far away in terms of the scale and complexity of what is required. But what we are hoping to develop is an organic approach that can evolve beyond 2030.”

The report on FPSA2 is scheduled for release towards the end of Q2 2017.