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Balancing challenges created by COVID-19 key to National Grid ESO missing benchmarks

Image: National Grid.

Image: National Grid.

In National Grid Electricity System Operator’s (ESO) most recent Forward Plan 2020-21 monthly report, the operator fell short of a number of benchmarks.

Much of this was driven by the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a dramatic impact on energy usage patterns and demand levels.

Speaking to Current± a spokesperson for National Grid ESO said its forecasting teams and control room engineers “work around the clock to anticipate future supply and demand scenarios and make sure the electricity system is constantly balanced".

“A combination of unpredictable weather, and ongoing uncertainty owing to the pandemic, meant throughout August it was often more challenging to forecast demand with the level of accuracy we would normally expect.”

In particular, the strain this fluctuation put on keeping the grid balanced worked against National Grid ESO hitting its balancing cost management benchmark of £102 million for the month of August.

Following the high balancing system costs in June, the operator adjusted its month-ahead Balancing Services Use of System (BSUoS) forecasting. But thanks to less extreme weather, and an easing of the COVID-19 lockdown, this proved less necessary, and meant the percentage of error fell outside the set limits.

The National Grid ESO spokesperson said the operator was committed to “being transparent and keeping our stakeholders updated on progress” towards the company’s Forward Plan, in particular given the “unprecedented COVID-19 period".

“Over the summer months lockdown measures have seen reduced demand for electricity, with demands still lower than expected for this time of year. We’re working hard to minimise the cost of additional measures needed to manage an electricity system with lower demand.”

National Grid ESO has used a number of tools to try to balance the grid throughout this turbulent period, including contracting EDF’s nuclear power plant Sizewell B to run at half capacity, introducing a new service called Optional Downwards Flexibility Management and clarifying emergency arrangements for the disconnection of distributed generation.

Even so, balancing costs increased by 39% between March and July 2020, rising to £718 million.

“Balancing costs for August were lower than July and closer to our benchmark than at any time since COVID-19 began, as fewer periods of lower demand meant we needed to take less action than anticipated to make sure we could continue to supply electricity safely and securely,” continued the spokesperson.

“Likewise for August we forecast an increase in BSUoS costs based on higher forecast costs as observed in June, however the reduction in balancing costs associated with fewer periods of lower demand meant BSUoS outturned at a lower level than anticipated.”


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