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Smart Grid Flexibility 2019: Wrap Up

This post has been written by our Executive Director and Co-Founder, Alan Gooding.

Flexibility seems to be the buzzword these days, and following on the publication of our own White Paper on the topic, Smarter Grid Solutions had the pleasure of sponsoring one of the first dedicated events on the topic last week in London. The Smart Grid Flexibility event brought together leading innovators from across Europe (and beyond) to look at everything flexibility related. Here are a few observations from my notes.

Flexibility can take many different forms based on the nature of the problem (demand versus generation constraint), whether flexibility relates to new customer connections or can be opened up to existing connected DER, and whether control is compensated or uncompensated. Unsurprisingly given the relatively nascent use of flexibility many DSOs talked about similar technical and commercial approaches to flexibility, however the language and terminology differed. Based on the contributions from around Europe shared at the event it seems the UK is more advanced in establishing Business as Usual adoption of flexibility with more consistent ‘product’ definitions.

The Clean Energy Package has provided the framework for DSOs to adopt flexibility, with individual member states now preparing to adopt flexibility solutions into country specific regulations. The 5% rule (as included in the Clean Energy Package) will allow DSOs to curtail DER export up to 5% of annual output to manage local grid congestion; previous projects in the UK, Germany and France have demonstrated that a 5% curtailment can release between 50-100% in hosting capacity. As the implementation of the Clean Energy Packages now passes to member states to implement, they can do so with an understanding of the value of flexibility can deliver to DSOs and wider stakeholders.

It was noted that the business case for demand flexibility to offset load growth isn’t always attractive due to low potential utilisation; one DSO reported targeting organisations with other drivers, such as public authorities, to address this challenge. Connection-based flexibility for large new customers, such as data centres and housing developments, can have DER and flexibility built-in at the start improving economics; one DSO reported the success of this where a new data centre development pulled out after 3 months thus avoiding stranded assets and another DSO reported a new housing development being built with residential PV and energy storage from the start to mitigate grid reinforcement costs.

Connection of distributed generation on constrained networks is generally subject to a flexible connection agreement with some form of compensation for curtailed power (either in reduced connection costs and timescales or compensated lost energy). The curtailed power is a source of ‘free’ renewable energy that can become the driver for local electricity markets. One participant presented a local energy market operating in the UK where they facilitate a day ahead market optimised to reduce curtailment. An Active Network Management system operates underneath the market providing a safety net so events such as insufficient trades, intra-period fluctuations and other network events can still be managed to ensure grid reliability. This approach is similar to the traffic light concept which resonated with delegates in which Amber allows markets to provide adjustments to forecast loading for the next periods and Active Network Management operates in congestion triggered Red periods to prevent breaches and restore the networks to a safe state.

Delegates from across Europe (UK, Netherlands, Germany, France, and Belgium) noted that their analysis of ‘heat maps’ for distribution networks shows little capacity for additional generation which will require a form of flexibility as a solution to create hosting capacity. The 5% rule (or similar regulations), local energy markets and Active Network Management were consistent enablers of flexibility to address hosting capacity challenges to connect DER.

Finally and in slightly more esoteric and thought-provoking moments, we discussed splitting the grid gradually to be more microgrid based for domestic / light industrial users with the current network providing back-up but primarily to serve heavy industry, whether EVs are actually a stop-gap technology on the way to hydrogen and what that means for network investment and smart charging, and finally, how new standards (e.g. USEF, S2) are trying to help create a Business as Usual trajectory without stifling early market innovation.