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'Unprecedented' scale of change needed for net zero, ESC finds in system operability requirements report

The ESC report looked at the end-state operability requirements of a fully decarbonised system. Image: Getty.

The ESC report looked at the end-state operability requirements of a fully decarbonised system. Image: Getty.

A new report from the Energy Systems Catapult (ESC) has looked at the operability of a net zero system in a bid to “generate conversation and debate”.

The report – created in collaboration with the Faraday Institution and supported by TNEI – highlighted some of the key parameters that make up system operation.

"While work is underway to facilitate the near-term replacement of fossil-fuelled generation with renewable technologies, less attention is given to the end state – the operation of a fully decarbonised power system.

"The scale of change required in the GB power system planning and operational practices is unprecedented," the report said.

It found that in a net zero power system, flexible demand could be shifted to meet available renewable generation rather than the current system of dispatching generation to meet demand.

Additionally, as a net zero system will no longer have access to bulk stored energy in the form of fossil fuels, security of supply will need to be achieved by alternative sources.

There will therefore be a requirement for new forms of storage spanning months or years to enable security of supply during periods of high demand and low renewable output, e.g. a cold winter.

The ESC report detailed how there will be many possible roles for energy storage, but that the cost will depend on several interacting technological characteristics such as whether costs scales with power capacity (MW) or energy capacity (MWh) and roundtrip efficiencies.

How the storage is used and how often it cycles will also be very important in determining its levelised costs, the report said, with storage that cycles very infrequently potentially costing £1,000s or even £10,000s per MWh.

However, further research into the requirements for and the cost of storage in a net zero system was suggested by the report.

Devices such as electric vehicle (EV) chargers and heat pumps, meanwhile, could support system operation by automatically and autonomously responding to frequency and voltage.

The ESC report also found that digitalisation and enhanced data will provide an opportunity to use dynamic approaches to operability and move away from deterministic rules. Indeed, increasing data collection and using more sophisticated tools would allow for the use of dynamic operability parameters in real time, for example dynamic assessment of the risk of network faults.

Earlier this year, the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce released its recommendations, with chair Laura Sandys stating that without digitalisation, "the system will not be able to manage the growing complexities of a decarbonised system".

Among the taskforce's recommendations were ensuring interoperability and a new digital governance approach, while it identified digital security principles and interventions as “crucial”.

The ESC's report, meanwhile, suggested there may be a need for further research on areas such as the economics of demand side flexibility to support investment, policy, operational decisions and impact on customers’ comfort and wellbeing.

Additional research may also need to be undertaken into the interactions between weather and energy demand and the impact on demand flexibility from heat and transport, as well as stress testing the system against extreme events, for example long periods of low wind.

It follows the National Infrastructure Commission previously recommending that by 2024, regulators should require regular stress testing to ensure infrastructure operators’ systems and decision making can meet resilience standards.

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