Britain’s net zero plans welcomed

Industry representatives have welcomed the UK government’s Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan and accompanying Digitalisation Strategy.

The plan, an update of earlier plans to transition to net zero by 2050 taking account of new commitments to reduce emissions, sets out 35 major actions in the years ahead to transition to a smarter and more flexible energy system to support the uptake of low carbon distributed energy resources.

The key areas are the opportunities for consumers to provide flexibility, the removal of barriers to flexibility on the grid and the reform of markets to reward flexibility, as well as then monitoring the delivery of flexibility – and the individual aspects of the plan – across the system.

Underpinning the plan is the need for visibility of the system through data for operations and planning, delivered through a digitalised infrastructure.

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Among the key actions is a £1 billion ($1.37 billion) Net Zero innovation fund for low carbon technologies and systems. Of this, at least £100 million ($137,6 million) will be allocated for energy storage and flexibility innovation programmes.

Jobs are also in the spotlight with the plan estimated to create up to 24,000 jobs by 2050. A Green Jobs taskforce is due to report in the Summer, and its findings will be supplemented with a smart skills gap analysis.

“The publication of the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan along with the Energy Digitalisation Strategy is a huge sign of progress towards the intelligent and adaptive energy system which the energy networks have already begun building,” said David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association.

“Transforming traditional energy networks with digital innovations is a foundational part of putting customers at the heart of the net zero journey. It makes networks smarter, more flexible and more able to manage increases in local renewable generation, green gas, heat pumps and electric vehicles.”

Emma Pinchbeck, Chief Executive of Energy UK, noted that the future energy system will be very different from the one we have known – dominated by renewable, smart and flexible technologies.

“Therefore this is the right time to be looking at the institutions and rules that govern the energy sector. We need to have the right structures in place to deliver and coordinate change across the whole system – and at the pace required to reach the net zero target.”

New technologies

RenewableUK’s Director of Future Electricity Systems Barnaby Wharton, highlighted the role of carbon signals in incentivising investment in low carbon flexibility.

“We welcome the ambition to review the gaps in current carbon policies in the plan. A common approach to carbon pricing across all markets would drive the transition from fossil fuel-dominated balancing markets to much more coordinated low carbon flexibility services.”

He also commented on the role of energy storage. “Looking ahead, [lithium-ion batteries] projects with a capacity of 250MW have already been already consented. This will continue to accelerate if we can get access to capital at lower costs, alongside more stable revenue streams and a reformed network charging regime for access to the grid.”

David Boundy, Chief Technology Officer and General Manager Europe at energy software provider Innowatts, stressed the key role of data and digitalisation.

“As the smart meter rollout progresses, energy suppliers have an ever-increasing data resource at their fingertips – however, to date much of this data has remaining untapped. If we are to achieve a smart, flexible energy system that is fit for the future, unlocking consumer insights will be absolutely vital.”

Sanjay Neogi, Head of UK and Europe at energy solutions provider Enzen, reminded of the need to consider the infrastructure challenges and ensure that safety, data quality and network resilience are kept at the forefront of the new initiatives.

“As more low carbon technologies become available, DNOs need to facilitate the integration of these renewable energy sources onto the grid in a sustainable, cost-effective way. Cutting-edge technologies will be vital to aid this transition.”