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Flexibility demand to 'gather pace' as grid decarbonises

Distribution network operator WPD is set to lead the growth of flexibility procurement (Image: Cornwall Insights)

Distribution network operator WPD is set to lead the growth of flexibility procurement (Image: Cornwall Insights)

More than 1.3GW of flexibility may be required across the UK’s electricity grid next year as the country accelerates the transition to renewable energy, according to new research.

Analysts at Cornwall Insight predict that the dynamic service, which supports the network during faults, will need 636MW of flexibility by 2021. Distributed network operator (DNO) Western Power Distribution (WPD) area is expected to procure the most flexibility services over the next two years, and could reach 800MW. The DNO, which currently has 439MW of contracted flexibility, plans to announce further flexibility locations on 11 Jan 2021 and is to open a subsequent procurement window on 8 February 2021.

The figures do not show the requirements of the Northern Powergrid (NPG) and the Scottish and Southern Electricity Network (SSEN) regions.

DNOs have ramped up their tendering and procurement schemes since 2018 as more variable low carbon generation such as wind comes online. Northern Powergrid called on companies to provide 19MW of flexibility for the grid at the start of December. However, WPD has been more active than most DNOs over the past few years. Its total volume of contracted flexibility almost doubled after its sixth procurement round closed in October, and it claims to have the highest among UK DNOs.

WPD seeks an excess of flexibility for each of its constraint locations to give increased security in the case of asset maintenance or faults.

The flexibility market’s growth has been slow over the past three years as some tenders have been left undersubscribed by a high margin, while some grid operators have yet to secure any flexibility capacity, according to Cornwall Insight’s analyst Joe Camish. Even in WPD’s last procurement round, network strategy manager Ben Godfrey noted that just 11 out of 54 constraint locations had “sufficient” excess electricity, while many are “still under-fulfilled”.

However, the new study suggests that demand for flexibility is starting to gather pace as more renewable energy sources such as wind come online. This will continue to grow as the government seeks to expand the UK’s offshore wind power capacity to 40GW by 2030.

Camish said that the requirement for these services is “starting to gather pace as DNOs seek to rapidly decarbonise the energy system to meet its net zero target.”

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