05 December 2013
A group of energy experts set up by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is warning that new ‘whole system’ thinking is needed for the power grid to ensure the lights stay on in Great Britain. The major rethink, outlined in a new report published today, Electricity Networks: Handling a Shock to the System, should include identifying a ‘systems architect’ role to ensure a holistic approach to adapting the power grid to meet challenging and complex new requirements resulting from decarbonisation.
The electricity network will face unprecedented change in the next 20 years. Decarbonisation of energy is probably the biggest peace-time change to national infrastructure that GB will have seen. Ensuring the future stability of the grid while creating a system that can deal with two-way local power flows and less-predictable generation and new demands such as charging of electric vehicles will be a big challenge.
The IET has brought together experts from industry, government and the regulator in a group – Power Network Joint Vision (PNJV) – to share learning and knowledge and identify long-term and cost-effective solutions to this challenge. The changes needed across the nation’s power networks are huge and a ‘one system’ approach, rather than one that only looks at parts of the system in isolation, is vital.
PNJV Chair, IET Fellow Dr Simon Harrison, said: “Britain’s electricity sector is grappling with the triple challenges of decarbonisation, maintaining security of supply, and affordability to customers. The impact of future changes has potentially profound impacts on networks and on the electricity system as a whole.
“These changes are potentially disruptive to electricity supply security and the cost-effective operation of the grid, and these pressures will become progressively more severe.
“We have an opportunity to act in ways which reduce cost and create worldwide opportunity for innovation and UK leadership. The scale and complexity of the challenges ahead is new, and potentially even greater than when the national grid was first developed in the 1930s. Fresh thinking is needed.”
The IET PNJV group is calling for steps to be taken to establish the functionality of a “System Architect”. How this might be fulfilled, whether by an existing party or parties, or by creating a new body modelled on experience from other sectors, remains subject to further consultation and analysis.
While not directly comparable, helpful lessons may be drawn from the roles of the GSM Association in the mobile phones industry, from RSSB, the Railways Safety and Standards Board, and from ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organisation. These agency-style groups work with their sector’s stakeholders to develop Codes and Standards, and have a governance role in their implementation.