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UKPN's second flexibility tender to launch under 'online dating' Piclo Flex platform

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UK Power Networks is to run its next flexibility tender on the Piclo Flex platform unveiled by Open Utility this week, which offers “an online dating” service for distribution network operators (DNOs) and distributed energy resources (DERs).

The proprietary software from Open Utility enables DNOs – or distribution system operators (DSOs) as they are becoming – to launch auctions for flexible capacity from a range of providers who have uploaded their capabilities to the platform.

Speaking at the launch event for Piclo Flex held on Wednesday James Johnston, chief executive and co-founder of Open Utility - which will change its branding to Piclo over the next month - explained: “This is a place for flexibility providers, meaning anyone that operates or manages flexibility whether they are an aggregator, a supplier or a battery operator, maybe chargepoints, an industrial customer, community groups.

“Anyone getting into this group can register on our platform, upload information on where they have assets to advertise their presence.

“The DSOs have different options for where they want to launch their tenders and what we want to do is prioritise where they are more likely to get success stories.”

Piclo Flex gives network operators visibility over what is available in their regions to plan how to meet there needs accordingly. It also allows them to provide greater transparency to flexibility providers seeking to determine the opportunities for additional revenues.

“It's very much providing visibility to both sides,” Johnston added.

CEO and co-founder James Johnston introduced Piclo Flex to a packed room at a launch event in London. Image: Open Utility.
CEO and co-founder James Johnston introduced Piclo Flex to a packed room at a launch event in London. Image: Open Utility.

Online dating for DSOs and DERs

The Piclo platform, which started life as a means of matching renewable energy generators with local businesses, was selected for trial by UKPN back in January after the DNO carried out its first trial service tender last year.

According to Sotiris Georgiopoulos, head of smart grid development at UKPN, while the initial tender attracted great interest from the market, little materialised as providers called for more certainty and transparency over the flexibility procurement process.

Describing the platform as “like online dating for DSOs and DERs”, he said on Wednesday that Piclo Flex could offer a simplified approach to meet the concerns of providers and “unlock flexibility” at a time when the network is becoming ever more congested.

“We have a winter peak demand of 16GW, we have about 9.3GW of DER, 200MW of batteries connected on the network, a gigawatt of batteries on the pipeline and some scary numbers about electric vehicles. So the future is here...and in that context flexibility is going to be key and how we unlock flexibility is going to be key,” Georgiopoulos explained

“We are interested in working with Piclo because essentially what we want to do is develop a flexibility market in good participation with the DERs, providers, industry and all other grid support.”

To this end, UKPN has already placed four of the ten locations it previously sought flexible capacity for onto Piclo Flex. In August 2017, the DSO called for over 14MW of combined flexibility for the Merryhill, Lithos, Mill Hill – Brockenhurst and Lewes Newhaven areas but is likely to confirm new requirements next month for an auction to take place in Q4 2018.

In addition Moixa, OVO Energy, Powervault and Open Energi have already signed up as ‘flex sellers’ to potentially fulfil the DNO’s needs, with Open Utility targeting several more before the auction takes place.

"We are engaging with most flexibility providers in the UK. We hope to get most of them onto the platform in time for UKPN to run their auction later this year," Johnston told Current±.

Image: Open Utility.
L-R: Volker Beckers, chairman of Open Utility; Randolph Brazier, head of innovation and development at the ENA; Open Utility's James Johnston; and Sotiris Georgiopoulos of UKPN. Image: Open Utility.

The new paradigm for flexibility

If successful, Piclo Flex is likely to attract more interest from other DNOs around the country. Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) became the second UK DNO to task Open Utility with the development of an online energy flexibility trading tool back in April, and the platform has already sealed the approval of the Energy Networks Association (ENA).

Randolph Brazier, head of innovation and development at the ENA, said: “These are the platforms and companies we need to make the energy transition. They have a learn-by-doing approach to get in the networks and evolve from there.”

Volker Beckers, a former chief executive of RWE npower and chairman of Open Utility, added that the platform offers a new approach to the security of supply axiom that has held sway over the energy industry for more than 100 years.

“We are now in times where the new paradigm will start with Piclo Flex. There aren't that many that have that vision of providing flexibility on a platform that will hopefully, at the end of this journey, become in my view the platform for all DSOs, not just in the UK.”

While UKPN is the first to use Piclo Flex for an auction, the platform is open to other DSOs to use the visibility functionality and signpost where they will be looking for flexibility in the future. Eventually, Open Utility hopes to create an open and competitive flexibility market able to meet the needs of National Grid.

For more on Piclo and Open Utility, click here to find out what happened when Current± visited the company back in November.

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