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Interim Report National Grid

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), along with the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC), has been highlighting for some time the lack of whole systems thinking within the power network. This incident highlights the desperate need for greater coordination across what are increasingly complex and interrelated energy, transport and communications systems. 

The impact of this lack of whole systems thinking was highlighted by the large degree of disruption faced by rail passengers from what was a comparatively minor electrical incident, stranded because signalling systems and trains were not able to restart once power supplies had been returned to normal. This lack of understanding about impacts across other sectors and on individuals also meant hospitals, residents and business were all impacted.

The electricity system has changed a great deal since the existing governance was put in place in the 1980s and it is no longer fit for purpose. We now have a highly complex system of which the National Grid is only one part, interconnected physically and through data and information flows to many other systems (such as the Network Rail system and subsystems within it). This complexity makes current silo-based thinking increasingly risky as society’s dependence on electricity continues to increase, for example through the internet and data, electric vehicles, heating and cooling, and dependency within the home, especially for the vulnerable.

The technical governance of these complex systems requires a step change from today, it needs to be holistic, agile, flexible and embracing of the full range of system participants.  Without that, we can expect to see more unexpected consequences across the whole system, as well as a failure to seize the benefits whole systems cooperation can bring, not just for major events on the National Grid, but also for the much more numerous power cuts experienced locally every day.  

The IET/ESC’s Future Power Systems Architecture (FPSA) Programme has been exploring these issues in considerable depth. It has concluded that to ensure that new and old technology, business models, security, resilience, redundancy and cross-sector cooperation can be effective in these situations our governance structures have to be modernised, before technical and commercial solutions can deliver the value society now expects. 

The IET wrote to the Secretary of State, Greg Clarke, on 10 April 2019, highlighting that the current system was not fit for purpose to transform the energy sector and will be writing to Andrea Leadsom shortly to reiterate these issues on behalf of the profession.



Notes to Editor

The Future Power Systems Architecture (FPSA) programme takes a Whole System approach – considering the traditional power system together with the installations, appliances and devices on the customers’ side of the meter – and how it interacts with other energy vectors – such as transport and heat.

A collaboration between The Institution of Engineering and Technology and Energy Systems Catapult, FPSA is delivered by an independent expert body having extensive technical, commercial, regulatory, digital expertise and experience. It has a strong customer perspective.


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