UK’s electricity networks the smartest and most flexible in Europe

GEODE report shows UK’s electricity networks lead all their competitors in Europe for supporting and delivering flexibility services.

The report, commissioned by pan-European trade association GEODE and written by the Centre on Regulation in Europe (CERRE), shows that while many network operators and national regulators are taking steps in-line with EU commitments on expanding the role for distribution network operation, there is little evidence this has progressed very far in measurable terms, apart from in the UK.

As of this year, Energy Networks Association’s (ENA) figures reveal UK network operators are expecting around 3GW of flexibility services to be tendered, putting the UK considerably ahead of Europe.

Increasing uptake by customers of electric vehicles and heat pumps, along with an increase in flexible generation like battery storage will create more customers for flexibility markets and services, helping network operators to manage their systems more efficiently for customers while also delivering Net Zero emissions.

One of the projects highlighted in the GEODE report for making good use of digitalisation and data to support long-term planning was the ENA’s Digital Systems Map. The unified map will show where electricity and gas network assets are and where distributed generation is located.

This will show where network capacity exists to add distributed generation to the network, or how EV charging points might be exploited to make use of existing network capacity.

The report also noted ENA’s Open Networks project and Britain’s regulated innovation incentives have helped to drive such significant change that, as also highlighted in CERRE’s report, the SP Group has ranked the UK’s electricity networks as the smartest in the world.

The survey included 51 responses from network operators, trade associations and regulators covering 39 European countries.

Farina Farrier, Head of Open Networks at ENA, which represents the UK and Ireland’s energy networks businesses, said: “There is no Net Zero without smart, flexible systems which is why we have worked closely with our members to develop our world-leading flexibility markets and the report is a welcome recognition of this achievement.

“Through our Open Networks project, electricity networks have been central to this transformation, laying the foundations for the UK’s decentralised, digitalised, Net Zero emissions future.”

Co-author of the report, Professor Michael Pollitt, said: “The CERRE report provides an important update on progress with the move to a more active Distribution System Operator (DSO) across Europe.

“The report highlights differences and similarities in the perspectives of DSOs and national regulators and finds that UK Distribution Network Operators are at the forefront of the European energy network transition. However, that transition remains a work in progress.”

The Open Networks project has helped electricity network operators to respond quickly to the rapid growth of the low carbon transformation. Renewables’ share of total generation in the UK was at a record high of over 40% in 2020, with over 30GW generation now connected to the local networks.

Image: Shutterstock

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