As an industry, we’ve become exceptionally good at managing fluctuating energy demand and matching supply to it. However, there are new challenges on the horizon. Transport, heat and industry are all sectors rapidly turning to electrification to decarbonise and the impact of opening up data is challenging 'business as usual’ in the energy sector.
The value of open data is become increasingly apparent when planning the future of our energy networks. As we move towards a smarter, more flexible network where we manage energy across the system by “match-making” supply with demand and minimising costs and carbon emissions, we are becoming increasingly reliant on collaboration between stakeholders. To plan ahead, we must agree with them on what the most likely future scenarios are, based on all the best data, plans and information available. Without comprehensive data, the agreed consensus could be wrong, resulting in misplaced resources or worse, a network struggling to match supply and demand.
Of particular significance is the electrification of transport. According to National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios, the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK could reach 36 million by 2040 and contribute an additional 6.5GW in increased peak demand, posing a huge challenge for network operators. Preparing for these eventualities and understanding the areas of the network in need of additional capacity is a huge challenge. It requires us to predict how many people will be driving an EV in ten years’ time, where they will be driving, and what type of EV they buy.
Data and information have proved valuable assets for energy networks, helping us make more informed predictions about the electrification of transport. In fact, we already have a very good idea of what kind of network constraints to expect over the next 30 years as we approach 2050. However, the stakes are high – if consensus with our stakeholders on the most likely future scenarios is built on an incomplete picture, our assumptions could be wrong, and our network planning won’t be as reliable as we hope. That’s why we need to overcome a persistent problem in the industry – data siloes.
Looking again at the example of EVs, we’re seeing local authorities, housebuilders, and EV charging companies simultaneously developing charging infrastructure at pace. There are already over 3,000 charging points installed in Northern Powergrid’s region alone. This is undoubtedly a great success story for the decarbonisation of transport, however, there is a risk that future local strategies are designed independently, built on individual data points siloed from each other. This could result in chargers being planned without consulting the network operator, meaning that when a connection request is made, deployment could be delayed. If stakeholders share plans, information and data early, we – as an infrastructure provider – can plan ahead and enable the sector to move at pace.