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LCNI 2019: Enabling Innovation in ED2

This post was written by Executive Director of Smarter Grid Solutions, Alan Gooding, with contributions from our team of consultants and analysts.

The Low Carbon Network and Innovation conference has, over the last decade, become the showcase for how the UK electricity networks are responding to future customer and system needs. This year’s event in our home town of Glasgow was no different. As the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) look to their next 5 year regulatory period (from 2023 – 2028) the mood of the conference was very much about what innovations have been successful and how can new customer services and markets be rolled out.

For many the focus was on enablers, and ‘no regrets’ choices that they can make regardless of what the future brings from consumers, markets and new entrants. The biggest overarching theme we heard was the growing understanding about the value for data, and how that data can underpin the transition to a Distribution System Operator (DSO).

Whether it is forecasting data to make better long or short term decisions, information to allow customers to self-serve, data to facilitate markets, etc. ‘data’ is the key investment for the next regulatory period. The challenge is understanding what data is required for what use cases, at what latency, in what format, and how it is accessed. Key for utilities is taking ownership of their network model and data model rather than relying on it being locked away is SCADA / DMS systems thus allowing new applications and systems to access the same information in a consistent (and therefore cost effective) manner, enabling the many new DSO functions and customer value propositions to prosper.

Another observation is how well the innovation space has matured. There has been a range of projects across use cases, DER types and market actors. The challenge remains however that despite the excellent work that DNOs undertake to share project results and learning none of this equips DNOs for the business change activities to truly adopt these innovations into Business as Usual; the importance of organisational learning cannot be underestimated and that can only ever be achieved by trying to deliver the innovation within a DNO’s own business processes and systems.

So for me, innovation is alive and well but has a long way to go. The focus may be changing, from individual, easily boxed off trials to enablers and business change for enterprise adoption and roll-out. Making the case for ongoing innovation funding, and perhaps more importantly the funding for Enablers and business change, is one that the DNOs should make to make with vigour as RIIO-ED2 plans start to be developed.