A smarter energy future03/08/17Energy
Pan European Networks spoke to some of the presenters of this year’s Smart Grids Cleanpower Conference.
In June, Cambridge Investment Research held the 2017 instalment of the Smart Grids Cleanpower Conference, which covered areas such as where the different technologies stand and what the consensus is regarding their future potential, energy leadership, disruptive energy technologies, global smart grids automation, handling increasing renewables, energy storage, software for grids, grid structures, grid defection and smart islands, regulation and good policy, innovation, and monetisation.
Discussing the event series, Justin Hayward, founder and director of CIR, told Pan European Networks that the conferences began in 2009 and have so far seen eight instalments, with the 2018 edition scheduled to take place on 25-26 June in Cambridge, UK. “Two years in a row now the events have been very timely indeed, with, in 2016, the conference convening just four days after the 52:48 vote by the people of the UK to leave the EU. Then, in 2017, we have met on the very day that the ‘leaving the EU’ talks commenced and just 11 days after the 2017 snap general election called by the Conservative prime minister – which, incidentally, had the opposite of the desired effect, which was to increase her mandate,” he said.
Throughout the event, general politics did not figure much in the energy and grids discussions, however. Hayward explained: “What drives an energy sector group is what role, aid or otherwise, if any, the government and its agencies take specifically in enabling smart grids, renewables, energy storage, reduced energy costs, security of supply and increasing sustainability.
“Experts thus set out the current, medium-term, and long-run physical and market structure of the grid. Smart Islands, or micro grids, and off-grids and their effect on the main grid created fascinating discussions.”
The event also saw talks concerning new technologies for the financial functioning of the two-way smart grid and heard more about energy storage and the progress being made in renewables. In summary, the event began to see how the energy trilemma could be solved in the long run.
One of the speakers at the event, Gavin Jones – from Smart Grid Consultants – told PEN that in the UK progress is good when it comes to the development of the smart grid: “Particularly in the level of innovation and trials that we have done and the level of funding being awarded for research projects.”
He added: “A huge amount of progress has been made. Just look at the quantity of renewable generation on the market today; hardly any coal is being burnt now. The area that hasn’t been addressed, however, is heat: there is currently no government strategy that leads to the decarbonisation of heat. Initial plans were for electrification, and then you decarbonise the electricity, which has hardly been addressed.”
Nevertheless, challenges remain, and Jones explained that “lots of incremental changes need to be made. For instance, a unified market for DSR, some of the policy positions need to be clarified, and the general approach informed by the responses to the industrial strategy green paper.”
Jeremy Nicholson, senior advisor at EEF’s Energy Intensive Users Group, who addressed the conference on the second day, told PEN about the potential that smart grid technology holds in terms of ensuring a sustainable energy future in the UK: “It presents the opportunity to integrate intermittent sources of energy (such as tidal), as well as the opportunity to create a back-up to fill gaps in demand and supply effectively. In the light of interconnectors being built overseas, smart grid technology will play a role in the way we are connected to energy on the continent,” he said.
The UK’s energy policy in this area is impacting on manufacturing industries, and, for Nicholson, “policy has been a lot of warm words but not much else. Smart grid technology as it stands immediately helps in a domestic context, but heavy industry has always reported energy usage in 30-minute increments. Most important for heavy industry is that the drainage response needs to be managed, and areas where flexibility is possible need to be identified. Generally, getting ‘smart’ is a development despite, rather than because of, government policy.”
Measures are also needed to help protect the energy-intensive industries against the ‘burden’ of green energy schemes, without detracting from the wider use of renewable energies. Asked about this, Nicholson said: “Post-Brexit, a similar idea of compensation or partial exemption from carbon taxes needs to be implemented, otherwise manufacturing will be driven to parts of the world that are less regulated. Without compensation, paying for energy simply serves to increase production costs in industries like smelting, and prices become uncompetitive.”
Greg Payne, a senior engineer in business modelling in the CMO Solution Delivery Group at E-ON, delivered a presentation based on a large body of internal work undertaken by the energy supplier in recent months and years. Essentially, he argued that flexibility markets are becoming increasingly important as the energy system transitions to low carbon and sustainability. Whilst certain required system functions were provided automatically (in the case of inertia) or abundantly (in the case of reserve and response), he said, the requirements for these services has been found to be increasing at the same time that traditional providers are decreasing. He therefore explored some of the drivers of change in flexibility markets, the benefits of reform in these markets, and what a fit for purpose future flexibility market might look like.
Speaking to Pan European Networks, Payne also explained that there is still much to do when it comes to enhancing the readiness and usefulness of the necessary modelling technologies for the smart grid, and that there are still significant challenges to be overcome in ensuring that intelligent systems are implemented in the future grid – some of which is currently being addressed by the Energy Systems Catapult and the Institution of Engineering and Technology in their report on Future Power systems architecture (see: https://es.catapult.org.uk/fpsa2/report).
Asked what he felt are the biggest benefits of smart grids – aside from their scalability – and what barriers he foresees to a wider roll-out of metering, he said: “In my eyes, the key benefit of smart grids is that they enable you to do more with less, such as utilise assets that were previously inaccessible, and create markets where previously there weren’t any, thereby reducing capital expenditure on fixed assets.”
UtilityWise’s Jon Ferris gave PEN his opinion on what market designs are needed to enable a truly ‘smart’ grid and how markets can be encouraged to be smart. He said: “We need greater collaboration between parties that make up the industry: suppliers, providers, new entrants with new technology, and – ultimately – consumers, they pay for the energy and so their buy-in is critical.”
Given the importance of real-time data analytics and control in driving energy investment decisions, Ferris added, smarter use of the grid is crucial. He explained: “We need to better utilise our existing assets. The data being collected at the moment is fragmented and efforts need to be made to bring these disparate data sets together. Network operators need to be encouraged to share data, but consumers can be encouraged take matters into their own hands in terms of data collection.”
In order to engage consumers with the smart grid and smart meters – there is a sense that some may not see their potential, but rather see them as only being of use to the supplier – there is a need to understand the benefits to consumers in monitoring energy data. Ferris said: “Bringing data sets together and being able to visualise them is hugely empowering to decision making. The risk at the moment is that current smart meters on offer will be obsolete by the time they are installed, because they only collect data on a half-hourly basis, and so steps must be made to address this.” This, of course, is taking place in an environment where market structure is changing for the layperson. Ferris concluded: “The market had been characterised by a top-down policy-driven process, set up for providers and not consumers. This structure is moving towards a more decentralised distribution with less visibility at the centre.”
Peter Sharratt, from the University of Westminster, also told PEN about the importance of a more collaborative approach. Discussing collaboration between academia, industry and the public sector to tackle global growth challenges, he said: “We have had to go to leading growth groups and universities because conventional supply chains weren’t giving us what we needed. Fundamentally, the stakeholders in academia have a different set of priorities to those in industry. However, we are seeing the way in which these two groups operate begin to merge. Businesses need to become more research-informed, and academia needs to become more focused on results.”
The conference thus saw a variety of areas being discussed with speakers expressing views on numerous areas to provide a comprehensive discussion of many of the key issues related to the future of the smart grid.
Cambridge Investment Research (CIR)
This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Science & Technology issue 24, which will be published in September, 2017.