Network of the future

Editor Alec Peachey outlines Network's central theme and provides a breakdown of the trends that will sit under it.

2019 represents a significant opportunity for the UK’s gas, power and heat networks. Network is in pole position to help bring the sector together and deliver a once in a generation transformation of the energy system. We’ll be putting a focus on what the network of the future might look like. With so many changes taking place it’s important to keep a focus on the most important trends.

At the heart of the network of the future lies collaboration and innovation. Both must go hand in hand if the pace of change across all networks is going to continue. Network will play a key role in helping the industry understand what the network of the future is going to look like by acting as the ‘go to’ place for technical information, project news, analysis and innovation updates – both in-print and online. A series of articles and reports based around the trends identified here will be made available to download. The trends have been assigned illustrative tabs to make them easily identifiable to readers when searching for/looking at content. Look out for the tabs in the header of pages. Join us as we continue to shine a light on the network of the future. 

 

 

Decentralisation: As falling costs drive the growth of technologies such as solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles, the power grid is becomingly increasingly decentralised, with more energy being produced, stored and used locally. Potential benefits include reductions in transmission losses and lower network costs. Network will examine the importance of decentralisation and how a decentralised network could make renewables more reliable and therefore increase the amount of green energy in the UK’s energy mix through the usage of energy storage solutions.

 

Digitalisation: Assets and systems currently managed by network operators hold a wealth of valuable data. The health of these ‘assets’ can be driven into to allow for more efficient predictive maintenance strategies and to help direct future investment in the network. This can be done by using digitalisation as a tool to delve into smart meter data along with grid analytics. The information gained can then be used to help predict future network trends. Network will look at the systems available to help achieve this, what the network industry and its supply chain need to do to respond to this shift and will explore the benefits of digitalisation. The benefits of real-time network management will also be looked at.  

 

Decarbonisation of transport: With the UK widely thought to be approaching the tipping point for the mass take up of electric vehicles, the energy networks are poised for a once-in-a-generation rollout of new infrastructure to support charging, with all the investment and innovation that will entail. EVs also bring potential benefits for networks by acting as sources of storage and flexibility. Meanwhile, new solutions for low-carbon transport are emerging from the gas sector, as well. Network will explore the latest thinking on the decarbonisation of transport, the challenges and opportunities, and ask – are networks ready?

 

Decarbonisation of heat: The UK has resolved, by 2050, to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent of their level in 1990. Developments have also been made on the heat side and there’s currently trials involving blending hydrogen into the gas network. There’s uncertainty over which route the UK will take to decarbonising heat – electrification, hydrogen networks or a hybrid system? 

Network will explore these options, look at the details and implications of the Climate Change Act, what the networks and their supply chain need to do to respond to the emissions target and will explore the work already being done.

 

Transition to DSO: The shift to a distribution system operator (DSO) model for distribution network operators (DNOs) has been in the works for a number of years. DNOs have been busy developing, trialling and sometimes even rolling out a raft of new technologies, systems and markets that will be required for this radical transformation.
The transition will see DNOs move to a more active role in the management of their networks with new sources of local flexibility – distributed generation, demand-side response and storage – deployed to deal with congestion and constraints.
Network will cover this important subject area as operators continue their efforts to minimise the costs of decarbonisation, in particular by delaying or avoiding the need for expensive network upgrades.

 

Paying for the networks – RIIO2 and network charging: With Ofgem recently publishing plans to slash in half the returns that energy networks can make, it’s clear that RIIO2 is going to be a challenging settlement. It comes at a time of seismic change for networks, and the framework will need to allow flexibility for changing circumstances while also providing the certainty networks need to secure investment and run their businesses efficiently. Network will share reflections on the emerging RIIO2 framework and what it means in practice for businesses. We’ll also be looking at the ongoing reforms to network charging and how they will impact the behaviour of network users.

 

Localised energy: When considering a localised energy approach the planning of infrastructure, technologies and the adoption of a whole-system methodology all come into the equation. There is a growing interest in energy from local authorities – cities in particular – and community groups as a driving force for localisation. Localisation will create challenges in terms of knitting together national and local planning but will also create opportunities to better exploit local energy resources and engage with network users. Network will look at examples of localised energy, how it is being adopted and what the future holds.   

 

Future of flexibility: A number of network operators are now adopting a ‘flexibility first’ approach to delivering additional network capacity and reducing electricity demand during peak times. Until now providing additional capacity has required new infrastructure, but flexibility services will give operators the opportunity to take a more cost-effective approach.
Network will examine how this approach provides a radical rethink to the way networks do business, moving away from automatically building new assets and instead giving the distributed energy resources market the opportunity to offer their services.


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