Whole energy system thinking is critical – the challenge is knowing where, when and how to enhance and adapt the UK’s energy networks
There will need to be adaption and enhancement of the existing network, the creation of efficient and effective new networks and the integration of networks to optimise performance in a low carbon energy system
Network infrastructures should be designed so they work together in a more coordinated manner across multiple energy sources in real time
Decisions need to be made about which energy networks to build, develop, maintain or decommission as well as when and where to do so and where the investment will come from, according to the ETI who today publish a portfolio of reports from 10 years of research and technology development carried out in its energy storage and distribution technology programme.
It is also vital that network infrastructures can work efficiently across multiple energy vectors in real time to increase efficiency allowing them to make the most effective use of resources. Markets in response will need the right incentives and targeted investments to adapt and enhance existing networks.
Although a lot of focus is placed upon how to decarbonise energy generation and heating in buildings there are a number of challenges that must be overcome in how energy is distributed and stored if this is to be done in the most efficient way.
Energy is rarely created where it is consumed so networks play an important role transporting energy to where it is required. Whole energy system thinking is therefore critical because the challenge is knowing where, when and how to enhance and adapt the UK’s energy networks.
Energy storage is also part of the broader issue of energy system flexibility. A crucial facer of a functional energy system is ensuring the right amount of energy is delivered when it is needed. This is about ensuring energy supply is in balance with energy demand. An energy system needs to have sufficient operational flexibility to allow this to happen and energy networks have an important role to play within this.
The amount of storage employed in the energy system is dependent upon the route chosen for decarbonisation – for example today we have roughly a week’s volume of storage in the gas pipe network.
In the years to come the UK will change how it generates, imports and distributes energy and people will change how they use it, so it is important to address how energy is physically moved to meet consumer demands whilst adapting to a low carbon future.
The existing UK networks have evolved over time but were largely engineered to address a different set of operational challenges to those the country now faces.
Therefore choices need to be made about which networks to build, develop, maintain or decommission as well as when and where to do so and the impact should be analysed across the whole energy system and not in isolation.
Energy systems analysis undertaken by ourselves and others indicates that greater interaction between different parts of the energy system could emerge that would increase efficiency and lower investment costs. This identifies a need to develop a greater understanding of the opportunity for, and implications of moving towards integrating network operations to provide mutual long term benefits.
During 2017 the ETI will be releasing technical data and reports from projects delivered across its technology programmes over the last 10 years. It has just released 45 documents on its website from its energy storage and distribution technology programme on the research it has undertaken to date in this area to help inform the debate in the UK.