An introduction to smart energy dynamics

Duncan Botting explains why we are seeing rising interest in whole system analysis of energy needs and a decline in top down control of sector development.

An introduction to smart energy dynamics
[image_library_tag 7282f95e-66ea-4ca3-8a75-808920b439b2 150×150 alt=” uncan otting lobal mart ransformation” width=”150″ border=”0″ ]Duncan Botting, Global Smart Transformation Duncan Botting, Global Smart Transformation

 We have spent the last four decades developing approaches to policy, economic, environment, technology, society and our energy networks which consign each element to existence as a silo. In truth, they should be elements of a single, whole system view and today, a revolution is underway to realise this vision.

The old paradigm of political top-down control imposed by legislation, regulation and enforcement is giving way across the globe to a social revolution. Be it Uber, Airbnb, e-bay, crowd funding, community energy or any other social app that has re-defined how governments plan their resource management, the landscape is very different to just five years ago. Smart Grids have taken longer to be planned and deployed than smart communities who are now self-organising in innovative configurations.

Our policy, legislation and regulation processes are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. The utility infrastructures developed for centralised mass delivery of power and gas are being challenged by new and disruptive business models and local as well as virtual networks of control systems.

Combined with the increase of variable un-controlled generation mix and the reduction of synchronous big thermal plants providing vast reservoirs of inertia on the power system, these developments at the network edges are providing novel and constantly evolving challenges. The old certainty of considering the power system in isolation to other energy vectors such as oil, gas, hydrogen and the other energy networks like heating, cooling, transport and Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) is giving way to a realisation of interconnection and, consequently, uncertainty – for investment, operations and common benefits.

“The old paradigm of political top-down control imposed by legislation, regulation and enforcement is giving way across the globe to a social revolution.”

In the energy world, industry has developed models that can predict with an excellent degree of certainty, at least within a known degree of error. But due to the fast pace of change and the lack of available data for non visible parts of the system and societal modal shifts, these models are now challenged with how to adapt to the new dynamics.

Taking the first tentative steps to understanding this challenge and its impact on the power networks out to 2030, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) commissioned a report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the newly formed Energy Systems Catapult (ESC). The Future Power System Architecture project, will set out what new and substantially enhanced functions would be needed to manage the power system in 2030 – subsequently this project needs to become an element within a wider look at the entire energy system.

In order to understand the complexities and the interrelationships of an evolving power system architecture the IET Energy Sector Panel has started to develop an extension to the European Commission’s standards analysis for a Smart Grid Architecture. The Smart Grid Architecture Model (SGAM) helps visualise the dependencies between business, functional and physical aspects of the electricity grid.  This approach builds on a recognised standard and will also lend itself to repurposing for an entire energy system exploration and in due course the ESC hopes to publish a series of white papers to explain the landscape, challenges and no-regrets actions that could be taken towards an uncertain future.

While the results of the project and its future iterations are awaited however, Ofgem has already reorganised internally to reflect the need for whole system thinking. DECC has also started Smart Energy, a project which seeks to understand the bigger energy picture.

What will be the impact of these developments be on whole energy system analysis? Historically, when faced with complex system problems our approach has been to break them down into…er, silos!

This makes sense because by deconstructing complex problems you can unpack them until you reach a problem you can bound and understand. Then you can establish assumptions about the boundary conditions and get to work on defining the detail of the problem you are left with.

The problem with this approach is that often the assumptions and boundary conditions we apply are themselves simplifications of the real world dynamics. We are then slightly surprised that the functionality designed does not quite do what we expect when placed into service, or worse, has perverse outcomes. We then have to design another intervention that uses the same process and the cycle continues.

Can we break out of this and develop new ways of thinking which can establish a certain framework while allowing the market to deliver innovation and cost savings? How would energy networks feature in this framework and would it allow government to step back from micro management of the energy system?

In my next column these questions will be explored in more depth to see if there are options that will allow whole system thinking to deliver transformational outcomes with incremental changes. Duncan Botting, director, Global Smart Tranformation



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