On top of the body of work that the Energy Network’s Association has already launched under the Open Networks project as seen in part one, 2018 has seen a wide range of new focuses emerge for the network companies and their association to contend with.
Integral to all of the models included in the Future Worlds consultation released at the beginning of August is the role of data, which in itself was central to one of the broad workstreams set out at the start of the year.
As the mix of generation and demand has shifted down to the distribution network level, the need for improved data and communication by DNOs has never been greater, not just in how it is transferred between the transmission and distribution interface but also the regularity and granularity of this data.
Nigel Turvey explained: "All the [Future Worlds] models need a lot of data exchange… and that's a key output from a lot of the work we're doing - how do we both access data and exchange it appropriately, covering all the privacy issues that can go with some of this data?
“Our problem is not having access to enough data or being able to transfer it fast enough or in the right formats and there are ongoing activities that we're doing through the Open Networks projects to try and improve that.”
This year has already seen considerable developments in this area, most recently with National Grid agreeing a contract with ElectraLink to access the half hourly settlement data of almost all export sites connected to the distribution network.
For the networks, an important decision to have taken place in July was the approval by Ofgem to allow Western Power Distribution, of which Turvey is also network strategy and innovation manager, to access domestic smart meter consumption data.
Despite the ongoing concerns over the smart meter roll-out, Turvey explained that the agreement offers an important starting point in a journey to increase visibility over low voltage (LV) networks.
"Access to data at that level is important as we see the growth in EVs and potentially electricity for heat. The privacy framework we've agreed with Ofgem gives us a slightly aggregated level, so we see the LV feeder level rather than individual customer level, but that's enough for us to start understanding the impact of EV charging and any growth in use of electricity for heat. We are going to need that across all of Great Britain,” he said.
While shying away from any suggestion that DNOs, or the ENA, should take a more active role in the smart meter deployment programme, which has come under heavy criticism this year, both Turvey and Brazier said that enrolling the existing installed meters into the Data Communications Company should be a top priority.
“One of the issues for us at the present time is ensuring as smooth as possible enrolment of the SMETS1 meters into the DCC so we can get as much information from those as well as the SMETS2 meters which are beginning to be rolled out now,” said the former.
Brazier added: “According to SmartGB there's about 7 million of them out there so we definitely need to register them and get access to that data, even if it’s not quite as good as the SMETS2."
Flexibility at the forefront
Another inevitable but nonetheless exciting development that has truly begun to take hold in 2018 is the trend for flexibility over traditional infrastructure upgrades. Where UK Power Networks began with a search for around 34MW of flexibility services across its network to be available in January 2018, others have followed suit.
All six major DNOs have now taken up plans to procure flexibility in their regional areas rather than lay out the capital needed for often costly upgrades and to compensate for all the downtime of the system.
The networks remain conscious however that this route – while often more cost-effective – merely prolongs the need to reinforcement and does not serve to replace traditional practices in all cases, as Brazier explained.
"As networks, our ultimate goal is reduce the costs for our customers. Even if we take a flexibility first approach and test the market, that doesn't necessarily mean it’s going to be cheaper than reinforcement.
“It depends on what's happening in the local area with demand and generation profiles; it depends on any National Grid upgrades, sometimes you might be waiting for one and it makes sense to procure flexibility services until then; and the other thing to note is that you have to weigh up the costs of flexibility services over the lifetime of the asset. The flexibility services might be on a yearly or five yearly contract but the asset that you're reinforcing is a long term asset.”
Despite these concerns, it seem more and more that ‘flexibility first’ is becoming part of normal practice, buoyed by the capabilities of energy storage and demand side response to create new business models to serve the needs of the networks.
While the others have opted to work with tech firm Piclo to utilise its digital procurement platform, Western Power Distribution is carrying out its own tendering procedures. It is under contract for around 55MW in part of East Midlands, while a recent tender attracted over 260MW of applications.
"When you do that you have to compare the economics to doing a traditional reinforcement but there is plenty out there to go for where flexibility will be the economic solution,” Turvey said of WPD’s strategy.
And not just content with this, WPD is making its own way towards a digital platform with Centrica on the Cornwall Local Energy Market. The £19 million trial project is aiming to demonstrate the role that flexible generation and storage can play in relieving pressure on the grid and driving down energy prices in the UK.
It uses a digital bidding platform not dissimilar to that of Piclo Flex to provide a marketplace for WPD and flexibility providers within the region.
According to Brazier, the two methods of flexible procurement – both of which are rolled into Open Networks in some form - offer the opportunity for “trialling and learning how this works on the ground”.
Turvey added: “What's most encouraging about Open Networks is trying to bring some commonality to some of the processes that we're putting together. For example, on the flexibility services we're doing quite a bit of work coming up with common frameworks for contracts which will make it much easier for potential providers of flexibility to understand what sort of services are needed and the terms and conditions that will be around those services.”
Taking the message to the masses
With the summer over and 2018 entering its final months, work will continue at pace on the Open Networks project. Once the Future Worlds consultation, covered in part 1, is closed the ENA will process its results along with some external consultants before presenting a final response and impact analysis to government and Ofgem.
However beyond the internal sector work of the project, and the preparatory work on RII0-2, the ENA is preparing to look beyond to the wider public, at a time when spending, prices and value for money are eternally in the spotlight.
"We want to make clear the public benefits of the DSO transition,” said the ENA’s head of press and public affairs, Ed Gill.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the techy stuff but actually we need to be talking not just about the cost impact in reducing the need for reinforcement and thereby mitigating the impact on consumers bills of running the networks, but also things like air quality and the fact that it's going to help us deal with electric vehicles; all those benefits.”