Utility Week

UTILITY Week 6th March 2015

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

Issue link: https://fhpublishing.uberflip.com/i/472696

Contents of this Issue


Page 6 of 31

UtILItY WEEK | 6th - 12th march 2015 | 7 Interview David Smith's got the look of a boy in a sweet shop. We're talking about the future of energy networks and smart grids and it's a conversation full of superlatives on the rate of technology change, capability and challenge. "The future is just over the horizon," says the chief executive of the Energy Networks Association, search- ing for the appropriate words to articulate the nature of energy networks' relationships with customers and smart devices in the world 20 years hence, but clearly excited by the idea nonetheless. "The world is changing rapidly, our energy use is changing rapidly and the system is changing radically. The way we use energy today is already so different from what it was 40 years ago, and I don't see that trend being different looking out 40 years from now. Technology will lead our lives. "We're going through such a big learning cycle at the moment that it's difficult to take it all in," Smith contin- ues. "As we hone it down – and we will – we'll get a bet- ter idea of what the system will look like. At the moment we are wide-eyed. I don't think anyone has pinned down quite what it will look like yet." Smith's enthusiasm is engaging, but that element of uncertainty is a source of frustration for some in the industry. At a recent round-table discussion of RIIO and network transformation, hosted by Utility Week, there was a clear feeling among attendees that the UK's distri- bution network operators (DNOs) are encumbered with inertia when it comes to realising the dream of smart grids and dynamic, distributed energy generation and consumption. While DNOs' investment in innovation projects, aided by the Low Carbon Network Innovation (LCNI) scheme, was recognised, their approach to integrating innova- tion into business-as-usual operations and embracing a more customer-facing role was found to be generally back-footed. It's a view that is echoed by Robert McNa- mara, executive director of SmartGrid GB (see market view, p17), who comments that it is high time networks deployed market-ready technologies such as automated voltage control, self-healing grid and enhanced fault prevention. Smith, a networks man of 12 years, is stung by these suggestions. "No. I'd push back on that," he says, polite but firm. "A lot of people have said the networks are failing to deliver, but look at where we are. Look at the projects. Go onto the smarter networks portal and look at what we've delivered, at how much value we've delivered. The networks have been a hidden gem for a long time." Smith adds that more proof of tangible progress will be displayed at the LCNI Conference in November. For 2015, the annual event will be held in Liverpool and the headline theme will be the translation of innovation into business as usual. All that said, Smith does acknowledge that there are arguments about the requirement for an electricity or energy system architect that need to be resolved soon, and some potentially game-changing technology areas have yet to be "cracked" by the networks – including distribution-level electricity storage. "Clearly the holy grail is battery storage – the big one at the moment is the 6MW UKPN trial at Leighton Buz- zard. If we can crack [storage], then all that wind that we now have to abate, we would be able to store. There's lots of activity through our members and others look- ing at this issue, and critically, what we can achieve at distribution level." But while the focus of network activity on storage today is on demonstrating technology viability at scale, there are other barriers to overcome before its deploy- ment – primarily the issue of asset ownership. Under today's regulatory regime, DNOs are not allowed to own storage assets because of their undefined status as nei- ther generation nor supply (see Utility Week's 'The Topic: Storage', 28 November 2014). It's a question the DNOs are keen to have answered, admits Smith, although he is unable to do so just yet. "That's an issue for the future. At the moment, it's about getting the technology right." On all these technology points and more, Smith – still defending the progress that has been made in recent years – promises that "implementation will now gather pace. I think it will all happen over the next price review cycle". But this brings us to another area where the networks, and Ofgem, have recently come under fire.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Utility Week - UTILITY Week 6th March 2015