Any move to a low carbon UK energy system that uses new and more varied sources of energy generation will require investment and an upgrade of the current energy networks infrastructure, according to a new report from the ETI.
The report argues that there will be a need to adapt and enhance existing networks to cater to changing energy supply, create efficient and effective new networks to deliver energy in new ways and integrate those networks to optimise performance across energy vectors.
ETI analysis shows there is real value in the UK employing a multi-vector approach to its energy supply, both from the perspective of transitioning to a low carbon energy system, but also in a manner that is convenient and affordable to the end consumer.
The report says current governance and regulatory frameworks are not designed to enable and incentivise the radical transformation that will be needed to move to a low carbon solution.
It recommends the following actions should be employed to allow for a transition to a low carbon energy system with a network infrastructure that delivers for future generations.
1. The UK should incentivise and target investment to allow it to adapt and enhance existing networks
2. Clear decisions are required on what new networks are needed and where they should be located to allow investment decisions to be made
3. The UK should design network infrastructures to ensure they work together efficiently across multiple vectors in real time – providing an economic and consumer solution to the delivery of low carbon energy
The ETI takes a whole system approach to national energy system design and planning which helps to identify what will be needed and possible scenarios for a UK low carbon energy transition. Last year it published two scenarios which highlight the major challenges and opportunities for investment in energy network infrastructures. Realising these futures could also require substantial change in how network investment decisions are governed, incentivised and regulated.
The ETI scenarios were developed from a ‘whole system’ perspective, and point to the high value of enabling a broader mix of energy vectors (heat, power and gaseous fuels), within a more integrated ‘system’ of energy transmission, storage and distribution. As well as advocating a systems wide approach to network design and operation, the new report also looks in more detail at the specific challenges faced in delivering heat, electricity, gas and hydrogen.
Over the coming decades the UK energy system will need to transition to meet challenging greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets in the most affordable way. Most of the UK’s energy is currently moved around the country, and sometimes beyond, by electricity and gas networks together with the liquid fuel supply system e.g. petrol and diesel.
The role of these networks will inevitably change as the ways in which the country provides and consumes energy evolves and as other networks emerge, not least those carrying heat and hydrogen. It is imperative that all of these networks are fit for purpose and robust enough to respond to future uncertainties.
Choices need to be made soon about which networks to build, develop, maintain or decommission, as well as where and when to do so. As networks can take years or even decades to build, the right decisions must be made ahead of need because once they are built they cannot easily be moved or changed. This means the decisions taken need to be right for the long term.
It is also likely that there will need to be significantly more interaction between different parts of the energy system in the future. This means there will need to be more interaction between the respective networks.
All of the above is in the context of significant energy policy and economic uncertainty. Any future network investments therefore need to be robust to a range of possible transition pathway outcomes.