The concept of a ‘smart grid’ involves the combination of instrumentation, communications and analytics that allows power network infrastructure to be operated in a dynamic and efficient manner – as opposed to the ‘passive’ operational approach which is currently the norm in the UK.
The challenges of climate change and system security, in particular the ability to accommodate significant volumes of decentralised and renewable generation, requires that the network infrastructure must be upgraded to enable smart operation. Failure to do so will act as a major obstacle in the transition to a low carbon economy.
However, progress in upgrading the network has so far been hindered by a series of obstacles. In particular, the current regulatory regime is not well designed to encourage network operators to embrace new technological opportunities and this is exacerbated by the extent of the risk and uncertainty involved.
The government has a key role to play in injecting the necessary momentum by providing strong direction to the regulator on the outcomes that must be delivered, and by ensuring the appropriate financing routes are in place.
In a briefing paper entitled ‘A Road Map to Deliver Smart Grid in the UK’ published by Green Alliance, E3G’s Senior Associate Simon Skillings sets out an ambitious but practical set of actions that are necessary to drive the transition to smart grids. This should be phased in three stages, designed to ensure that network developments do not obstruct or slow down the decarbonisation of the power system:
Prepare (2010 – 2015): Early in this period the government must identify a series of key indicators and associated targets for the implementation of smart grid and ensure that the regulator is obliged to deliver these targets. The network operators need to develop their plans to meet the targets and this will need to be based on sufficient testing and trialling of the solutions to be adopted. Finally, the regulator will need to ensure that the appropriate regulatory and commercial arrangements are in place to drive the subsequent deployment process.
Enable (2015 – 2025): During this decade the power network needs to become fully automated and interconnected and this process must be driven by obliging the regulator to ensure that staged targets are met against a series of key indicators. These indicators might include parameters which specify the system coverage of instrumentation, grid efficiency achieved, carbon reduced from a more efficient grid, proportion of despatchable demand, capacity of non-generation balancing services and progress with key strategic interconnectors.
Deliver (2025 onwards): The power system will have changed enormously by this time and the regulatory and commercial arrangements for the networks must support the ongoing progress towards a fully decarbonisation future.
The paper is available to download here