Up and down Britain, grid connections continue to be a major discussion point for the future of energy networks and the crucial low-carbon generation they connect.
Technological innovation will be a crucial aspect in supporting both transmission and distribution networks as the country transitions to a net zero future, with more and more projects needing to be connected to the grid if the target of a net zero electricity system is to be hit by 2035.
Following on from the previous instalment of our Current± Explores: The Grid Connection Conundrum series, in which UK Power Networks explained how it is working to improve grid connectivity, we talk to Paul Glendinning, director policy and markets at Northern Powergrid, to find out more about the organisation’s attempts to tackle the ongoing conundrum.
How is technology helping to negate the need for network upgrades in the short-term?
Understanding what is happening out on the network unlocks opportunities for flexibility – that is why network monitoring is so important.
Our flexibility-first approach to investing in our network is based on the principles of monitor, manage, reinforce. We are able to leverage information from monitoring out on our network to understand what is happening.
This then enables us to manage the network by deploying network flexibility (such as active network management to release capacity when it is needed) or customer flexibility through incentivising customers to increase or reduce electricity use or production, or flexible connection arrangements.
Our flagship smart grid enablers programme is transforming our ability to monitor, control and communicate with more than 860 major substations and 5,500 distribution substations, which gives us a greater ability to control and analyse how our network is operating in real time, enabling us to respond to the uptake in LCTs (low carbon technologies).
Where there is most certainly opportunity for future growth, we reinforce our physical assets by replacing or upgrading cables, switchgear and substations to expand the capacity of our network in response to load growth – this could be after exhausting the approach set out above at a given location on the network, or it could be the first and most economical solution.
How important is collaboration to driving network flexibility?
Collaboration is vital. Our flexibility-first approach looks to harness customer flexibility in conjunction with other industry players, leveraging the benefits of time of use tariffs and energy efficiency while developing DNO-contracted flexibility markets. Data is the key to making this work – and some of that lies with us sharing data and some of that is drawing on data and plans from our customers and partners.
Collaboration and data exchange is key. In recognition of this we have a team of Local Area Energy Planners within our Distribution System Operation function whose job it is to work with developers, projects, councils, MPs and mayoral offices to bring our expertise to bear on help shape their planning and to try and remove obstacles.
What projects are the Northern Powergrid currently developing to help streamline grid connections?
As an industry we are working with National Grid ESO and National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET ) developing solutions.
We are the lead on developing and implementing a new queue management approach where we are looking at better ways to manage the existing queue to increase the utilisation of available capacity and respond to projects at different stages of readiness.
Grid connectivity is often cited as one of the key challenges to the energy transition, what can developers do to work more closely with network operators to tackle this?
Collaboration and data exchange is key. In recognition of this we have a team of Local Area Energy Planners within our Distribution System Operation function whose job it is to work with developers, projects, councils, MPs and mayoral offices to bring our expertise to bear to help shape their planning and to try and remove obstacles.
The use of our heat maps will assist – where we illustrate the areas that most suitable for connection. As the new changes to the Connections process come online in 2023, we would propose the use of profiles/day/week/month to enable us to consider curtailable connections and the use of flexibility.
With the RIIO-ED2 price period set to start in April, how important is the increased network investment for net zero?
Networks are at the heart of delivering net zero. While we can be sure that we need to decarbonise, we don’t yet know how our nation will use all the different technologies that exist (wind, solar, heat pumps, LCTs, hydrogen, and new as yet untested technologies). Keeping those pathways open for our customers and our region is an important part of our role in the net zero journey.
That means we need to make the right strategic investments to make sure that when we get to 2028, we have not only kept pace with what has already happened, but we are ready for what might come next.
It’s our job to find and realise synergies that keep all potential pathways to net zero open at the lowest possible cost for customers.
Is there anything else that you think our readers should know?
For Northern Powergrid we see the use of our Local Area Energy Planners as key to unlocking the most efficient route to meeting net zero at the lowest cost.
It is this team that is able to work across the industry, with all partners and other energy providers, and through collaboration develop whole system solutions that optimise the energy network.