Utility Week

UTILITY Week 30th October 2015

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

Issue link: https://fhpublishing.uberflip.com/i/592587

Contents of this Issue


Page 6 of 31

UTILITY WEEK | 30TH OCTOBER - 5TH NOVEMBER 2015 | 7 Interview R esponsibility for the UK's energy supplies is a lovely thing to carry," says Nick Winser as we discuss the most challenging and rewarding times he experienced while on the board of National Grid. "There was an absolute thrill to managing security of supply concerns." Winser shares his memories with relish, but also reserved modesty for a man who played a key advisory role to government for more than a decade, providing a voice of reason in moments of apparent crisis. More than that, though, Winser was instrumental in developing the RIIO regulatory regime that now presides over the UK's electricity and gas transmission and distribution companies, and which injected a new focus on innova- tion and adaption in the face of the energy trilemma. He also shaped much of National Grid's current approach to security of supply challenges, designing large aspects of the demand-side tools – including the supplemental balancing reserve – which are increasingly now used to buoy the UK's energy system through times when the capacity margin looks unnervingly tight, this winter being no exception. An incurable technophile and problem solver, Win- ser admits a certain satisfaction with this contribution to National Grid's ability to deal with the shi to a new world order in energy, a world for which he now has new responsibility as chair of the Energy Systems Catapult – of which more later. Explaining why the rise of demand-side tools is so essential to National Grid – and the energy system as a whole – Winser gets into his stride on what is clearly a pet subject. A much more active demand side is a huge opportu- nity in terms of balancing the system, he says, because it is the answer to the problem posed by the loss of the massive inherent storage in a fossil fuel based economy – the storage which manifests in lumps of coal and pockets of gas. "This is huge storage," Winser asserts, emphatic but characteristically measured in pressing his point. "Let's not delude ourselves that the storage on the system is just at Dinorwig and a few gas caverns. It isn't. Our whole fossil fuel system is one which is based on huge inherent energy storage. That's important because that's why, over the years, we've been able to say to consumers: 'you use it [energy] when you fancy and we won't give any price signals to you about when to use or in what volume'. "The system has evolved in that way because it has huge inherent storage," he reiterates. "When everyone turned stuff on at once you had a big pile of coal with stored energy and you put that in quicker or you turned up the compressors on your gas station. That made our production side infinitely flexible. When you move away from that, to renewables, you lose all that inherent stor- age. More than that, it becomes variable as well as not adjustable. "That's why it is now so important to get that message out to consumers about the underlying cost of energy at a particular time at a particular volume, through a particular vector – whether gas or heat or electricity – so that they can play their part in making the system more economic. "That's why demand side is so important and will continue to become much more important over the next ten years. We will see it become a full partner of the flexibility of the production side." Hearing this fulsome praise for demand-side tools and technologies, it would be easy to assume that Winser was a born adherent of all things distributed in energy. But in fact, self-admittedly, it's an area of enthusiasm that has evolved gradually over time, and mostly in the past five years in response to the revelations of National Grid's future energy scenarios work – another favourite element of Winser's Grid career. Now a familiar contribution to a growing canon of future-gazing energy reports, National Grid's energy scenarios work began in the early 2000s when Winser recalls a dawning realisation that the assumptions the transmission system operator had made about the road to a decarbonised society were flawed and uncertain. "People like me, who had lived through the dash for gas, felt that we had seen a lot of change," says Winser. "But while that was a big challenge for grid infrastruc- ture, it became clear that the challenge ahead is even greater." He plots out the change in thinking: "In the 90s we saw a shi from coal and nuclear to gas. That led to a period of looking at future energy scenarios which were focused on a group of low-carbon technologies – primarily nuclear, CCS and large-scale renewables – in the mid to late 2000s." This focus was "good and valuable at the time", says Winser, and led to useful debate about what was a "credible" amount of new nuclear to come onto the system – our discussion took place before confirmation of Chinese investment in Hinkley Point C and the swathe of nuclear development that will open up – for better or worse – in the UK (see Analysis, p18). "

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Utility Week - UTILITY Week 30th October 2015