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The Scottish Government’s ‘A Vision for Scotland’s Electricity and Gas Networks’ – Smarter Grid Solutions highlights

Dr Graham Ault, Director at Smarter Grid Solutions, picks some highlights in the Scottish Government Networks Vision.

We welcome the Scottish Government vision for Scotland’s energy network infrastructure. We believe that the vision starts from a realistic assessment of the current networks and provides a positive view of the enabling role that networks play in the energy transition and the opportunities that energy networks provide and can support.

The Enabling role of networks

Like other public infrastructure, energy networks release value for customers and communities. There is an ongoing role for networks as an enabler for genuinely worthwhile energy production, transportation (in different vectors and networks), storage, use, efficiency and flexibility. This enabling role of networks is likely to increase as the dependence and number of uses or the electricity network in particular continues to grow. The networks vision points out the role for networks in supporting specific Scottish needs.

Integration of Electric Vehicles

A good example of enablement is in the significant role of networks in effective and efficient (smart) integration of Electric Vehicles (EVs) with an open approach to commercial options, business models and new services in the EV ecosystem. The vision points to the need for the ChargePlace Scotland public EV charging infrastructure to be smart and we believe this provides a good role of leadership for this important public infrastructure.

Smarter local energy models

The vision calls for smarter local energy models, which would see the networks providing the platform to harness local energy resources (of all types), their interconnection through networks, their management, the delivery of innovative business models and the effective and fair use of network capacity. We believe that networks play a crucial role in enabling those local energy models while linking them into (contribute to and benefit from) wider system and market integration.

Distribution network investment

The vision highlights the need to balance distribution network investments with the need for and benefits of smart, flexible and local arrangements. With technological advances making many smarter approaches to network operation and utilisation possible, harnessing the potential of customer and resource flexibility, the need to invest wisely with those new capabilities to the fore is essential. The extent to which network operators are incentivised to invest in non-wires alternatives and flexibility is a regulatory imperative.

The vision points out that investments need to take account of regional and local priorities. A more surgical approach to investment and development, just doing exactly what is required at any time and location, is likely to need new investment planning tools and methods – something the supply chain, academic and technology community can support.

Smart, flexible, active network management

SGS has a particular interest in Active Network Management (ANM) and welcomes the vision’s recognition of the role and value of ANM in current and future networks. We believe that ANM and the management of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) connection and operation can go much further to open up the local, flexible and smart approaches called for - and make these deliver full value for network users and consumers. All of this is particularly important of the electrification of heat and transport is to be enabled efficiently. Planning and operating an energy system with much greater numbers of smaller resources is highlighted as an area for new technology and innovation. Twinned with technically smart and flexible solutions are changes to the market to facilitate ancillary and flexibility services – the vision calls for these changes to be addressed.

Network challenges and changes

The vision notes the particular electricity network challenges of connecting and operating even more renewable power, EV and Heat Pump integration into networks (whose design pre-dated these technologies), operating networks in new ways to get the most out of the installed assets within their physical limits, and operating securely without the large conventional fossil and nuclear generation assets (on which Scotland’s power system has relied for several decades). New Scottish island transmission links open up new opportunity to harness renewable power sources and address network constraints – we note that the distribution network ANM solutions managing generation flexibility on several Scottish islands still has a significant role to manage the distribution network capacity limits underneath the increased overall export capability.

The vision also highlights the emerging Distribution System Operator (DSO) business model evolution and the role of energy system data. The primary DSO role of enabling connection and operation of DER on a flexible basis is emphasised while some principles for the DSO transition are set out: safety, security, efficiency, openness, risk sharing, and adaptability. We welcome these principles and think these could usefully be discussed, developed, reported on and innovated around at a national level in the coming months and years as the vision is further animated.

Leading the way

We are delighted to see some of the exemplar projects that SGS has had the privilege to contribute to given special mention in the vision. This year the SGS ANM system delivered for Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks on Orkney celebrates its 10-year go-live anniversary and the roll-out of the flexible generation connections continues through the Accelerating Renewable Connections project with SP Energy Networks and further roll-out beyond those projects. We do think there is a sector and public interest to be served in further monitoring and reporting of the progress of customer to network flexibility. New value streams, opportunities and improvements can be made through greater transparency. The ‘Surf n Turf’ project on Orkney is a good example of addressing the network constraints, ANM operation and new value streams and opportunities through community innovation and new technology deployment (in this case electrolysis to produce clean energy in the form hydrogen and exploiting wind power curtailment).

To read the full Scottish Government Networks Vision, click here.