Now well into its second full year following its launch in January 2017, the Open Networks Project has enjoyed a busy 2018 as the programme to build the foundations of a smart energy grid in the UK continues to gather pace.
As the industry prepares to gather in October at the ENA’s annual conference, Open Networks chair Nigel Turvey and ENA head of innovation Randolph Brazier sat down with Current± to look back over the project and its progress to date at a time when the role of network companies is constantly shifting.
At the start of the year, a 2018 work plan consultation laid out the Energy Networks Association’s goal to deliver 29 products over the year across four broad areas. Over the course of the year, developments across the market have come thick and fast; a fact that could have caused issues for the juggernaut that is the Open Networks project.
However, according to Turvey the wide range of stakeholders readily engaging in the initiative has allowed it to roll with the times.
“It is a fairly agile project and therefore we are able to change direction relatively quickly if we need to, and we also have the input from the adviser group on a quarterly basis and so that gives us a lot of input from external parties. We do get quite a lot of feedback from industry as its changing and that enables us to modify the project as we go along,” he said.
This also comes from higher up, with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy alongside Ofgem sitting on the Open Networks’ steering group as well as within specific workstream and product teams.
“We get really constructive feedback from them as well and we are working really to try and deliver parts of their Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan (SSFP) as well, so a lot of that is being built into the project to ensure we deliver some of the objectives they have,” Turvey added.
Stakeholder engagement on this scale has always been a founding principle of the project to ensure that it is the industry shaping its own future. This is on show with the project’s most recent output, the Future Worlds consultation, which seeks views on a range of potential models that could be adopted for the energy system to unlock the benefits inherent to the ongoing evolution of networks.
Pointing to the “good engagement” the ENA has received on the consultation since it was launched at the start of August, Brazier explained that the outcomes will purely be based on what the networks and its customers see as the best route forward for the sector.
“We're really trying to use the feedback from the consultation but also the [forthcoming] impact analysis to guide the way forward. We don't want to pre-judge it, we want to do it based as much as possible on what customers want and what the analysis actually shows is best for customers.”
He added that the level of response for the future worlds work is just the latest example of how the industry has engaged with Open Networks, which was no doubt propelled forward by the inclusion of the project in the government’s SSFP.
"I've seen a significant improvement in the stakeholder input and engagement, both through the advisory group and when we go to wider consultation. That is quite encouraging because we've been quite clear from the start that we don't want to be doing this alone, we want people's input and that's why this consultation is so critical because the impact analysis off the back of it [will] look at what the way forward is going to be.
"My understanding is that this is probably the project in the ENA's history that's had the most stakeholder input and engagement,” he said.
In Part 2 of Current±’s catch-up with the ENA and the Open Networks Project, out on Friday, Nigel and Randolph take a long back at the emergence of data and network flexibility as key trends for DNOs over 2018, and how new developments could continue to change the way networks operate in the future.