14 March 2018

March energy overview: who’s to blame for the delay in a shift to a decarbonised grid and is lack of data a bigger risk?

The Guardian reports that the recent cold snap should kick-start a national conversation about how the UK keeps warm and tackles climate change.

It argues that successive ministers and officials have kicked the issue of how to decarbonise heating down the road.

At Connected Energy, we work mainly with electricity and storage, but we understand that heat and electricity are inextricably linked.

That’s because, as The Guardian explains, the Government has not yet become entirely clear on which technological approach is best, be it electrification of heating, the use of greener gases such as hydrogen, district heating schemes, or some combination of all three.

But it's vital we decide. Electrifying heating would have a massive impact on how tomorrow's grid works, and would require all sorts of substantive planning.

The Guardian suggests the dallying is happening because, at a time when the debate about energy is fixated on the cost to consumers, no minister wants to stand up and be honest with billpayers by telling them they might need to cough up for a new hydrogen boiler in a decade’s time, for example.

And another thing the last weeks have clarified, is that shifting most of our heating needs off gas and on to electricity through low-carbon options such as heat pumps, which the government was weighing up just five years ago, now looks increasingly fanciful.

At Connected Energy, we understand that balancing the new decarbonised grid while weaning the UK off its gas reliance is challenging.

But the recent glimpse of cold weather shows how key planning is. Whether we end up electrifying a percentage of heat, or find a new solution in hydrogen or bio-methane, the planning and the infrastructure must start now.

Huge decisions are at stake for how we heat and run our country in years to come. And for our low carbon grid.

Damaging data?

Another fascinating viewpoint this month hints that data, not infrastructure, could be a major challenge to delivering tomorrow's smarter grids.

There’s a crisis brewing at National Grid and threatening to hit the reliability of the UK’s electricity system.

However, this crisis is not due to the lack of power; it’s because of a disruption in the flow of data, writes Verdict.

Here's the challenge...

Significant growth in low carbon technologies like wind, solar and combined heat and power is important for reducing carbon emissions, and ensuring the long-term viability of the energy system.

Many low carbon generation resources are much smaller in scale and are connected to the distribution networks, those that link the transmission network to most homes and businesses, at a much lower and safer voltage.

These networks are not operated by National Grid, and do not have as much visibility and monitoring as the transmission network. As a result, National Grid is less able to access the data on generation and peak demand within the entire distribution network.

The danger is that this data is not available fast enough or at a sufficient level of granularity.

The UK’s Energy Networks Association, which is the industry body representing all power and gas network companies in the UK, is promoting data sharing in the energy sector heavily, through its Open Networks scheme. Data must be transparent; enabling new forms of generation and transmission to operate seamlessly.

At Connected Energy, our viewpoint is that a key requirement of the energy transition is collaboration; this cultural transition will be critical to our ability to join the dots, enabling the smart link up of all the stakeholders, which will in turn drive the low carbon transition.