The decentralised, prosumer-based energy system with new loads such as electric vehicles (EVs) is conceptually straightforward.
But what is the underlying network architecture that will support such a system, with a significant portion of the generation from small distributed systems with much of it potentially put into storage or traded locally and the need for a high level of flexibility?
Countries the world over are grappling with this issue as the clock counts down on the climate and carbon reduction targets that are driving much of this transformation.
Major infrastructure projects such as these take years to complete and while 2050 might seem far off today there is much to achieve to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature increase limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Future power system architecture
In Great Britain, the issue is coming under investigation in the Future Power Systems Architecture (FPSA) initiative, which is looking to a 2030 timeline.
The project, which was commissioned by the former Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has adopted a systems engineering approach to address the challenges by developing the required outcomes and the 'functions' and 'systems' to meet them.
In the first phase, completed in mid-2016, 35 new or enhanced technical functions were identified that need to be implemented to plan and operate Britain’s power system in 2030 in response to the new customer and user needs, changing generation technologies and the electrification of heat and transport.
Alongside these, four ‘credible evolutionary pathways’ also were developed, along with some sequencing analyses reflecting the differing impacts of externalities such as policy choices.
Since then the programme has continued in the next phase with in-depth analysis specifically around the barriers – technical, governance, commercial and societal – to the implementation of the 35 identified functions.
So what are the key findings of FPSA2?
Most significantly, that today’s power sector change governance mechanisms have neither the scope nor the agility to ensure the timely delivery of the new functions.
This has potentially significant consequences for system security, sustainability and cost effectiveness, ultimately risking delivery of Britain’s energy policy, according to the report.
The proposal, as a matter of priority, is for a new approach named ‘enabling frameworks’, which would be set up to implement and maintain a particular area of functionality.
As an example, an enabling framework for EV charging would undertake activities such as refining function specifications, establishing plans for delivery and testing, developing standards and tools and addressing data and information procedures.
These enabling frameworks would be supported by “a strong and inclusive stakeholder network” which would play a significant role in developing the approach and in decisions about new and enhanced functionality.
Their development would be facilitated by an ‘enablement organisation’, to provide governance, resolve disputes, ensure co-ordination across the system and other energy vectors such as gas or heat, and interact with other bodies such as government, trade associations and standards organisations.
“The industry is changing significantly and now embraces not only the established power sector parties but also a host of new players operating in the customer and community space,” comments Dr Simon Harrison, Chair of the FPSA Project Delivery Board, on the findings.
“Without the necessary coordination, there is a real risk that these developments will have adverse impacts on the power system. All parties, including customer representatives, now need to come together as a whole to create [a shared] vision and, with the catalyst of government, put in place the mechanisms that will make it a reality.”
FPSA3 and FPSA4 – next steps
With the groundwork done in FPSA2, the next phase of the project will map out the delivery of new power system functionality in more specific terms, by defining and testing the ‘enabling frameworks’ concept.
In parallel, FPSA4 will be initiated comprising a portfolio of innovation projects undertaken within a coherent framework that adds value to the FPSA3 work. The projects will address requirements and opportunities in areas that are likely to be needed to enable the future power system.
The FPSA initiative is led by the Energy Systems Catapult and the Institution of Engineering and Technology.