The voice of the energy industry

Bridging the gap: a roadmap for 2035 levels of flexibility

Last October, Energy UK members pledged to work towards a net zero grid for the mid-2030s and the Government built on this with a target to deliver this by 2035. Our power grid now is largely reliant on fast-acting gas plants to balance supply and demand. Moving away from gas will mean providing this flexibility in other ways – through interconnection, storage (such as batteries), electrolysis (using excess renewables to produce hydrogen) and demand-side response.

Energy UK has been working alongside other stakeholders with the Electricity System Operator (ESO) on a project (Bridging the Gap) to map what needs to happen and when to deliver this scale of flexibility.

This week, the results were published, as a flexibility roadmap, along with an accompanying report by Regen (A Day in the Life of 2035), which examines how this flexibility would work in practice, across a 24 hour period, on a cold, dark, winter’s day.

Showing that a Net Zero grid by 2035 is clearly achievable, the project highlights 3 key findings:

  • Flexibility needs broad and large-scale investment to start now
  • Consumers are part of the solution
  • Net Zero needs cross-sector coordination

This investment need encompasses everything from large assets such as hydrogen electrolysers to domestic-level technology and networks and needs to ensure that both networks and assets are digitalised and interoperable.  

On consumers, the assumption (from FES21) is that end-consumers will play a key role, including by shifting 18 percent of peak demand. For this, it will need to be easy – seamless and automated. As Laura Sandys, Chair of the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce, puts it ‘No-one should need to become a trainspotter’. This will mean tackling current barriers and incentivising businesses to design products and services that make enough of us want to pre-heat our homes and charge our electric vehicles during off-peak periods.

Trials already show that some consumers are responsive to price signals but, people are different, so the challenge is to appeal both to enough market segments and to do this is an way (via regulation and market arrangements) that benefits all consumers.

This, ultimately (as with much of the energy transition) will come down to data. At the launch, Laura Sandys highlighted that currently the sector uses six customer archetypes. If we want to persuade enough people that their actions, in aggregate can balance the grid, we will need to become more like Amazon with its 150,000 archetypes.

The message that resonates throughout is that transforming a whole system takes time and we need to get on with it. By clearly mapping out ‘bite-sized’ deliverables with clear owners and timescales, the report helps us, collectively as a sector, to do just that.


A Day in the Life 2035

Also, definitely worth some time is the accompanying report - The Day in the Life of 2035 by Regen. This explores, on an hour by hour basis, how demand can be met on gloomy, low wind winter’s day.

Whilst there is some wind assumed (a low-wind high-pressure system over the east coast and southern North Sea, would still leave wind operating, for example, in the Celtic sea), it’s assumed that 60GW of demand needs to be sourced outside from renewables.

Whilst a significant proportion of demand will be met from transmission-scale assets such as nuclear power plants and interconnectors, many of the balancing actions would come from energy storage and demand-side flexibility on the distribution networks (including millions of household-level actions such as smart EV charging). The scale of flexibility required here is 80 GW with 20-30 GW assumed from demand-side (smart charging, thermal storage, electrolysis and industrial demand), around each 20GW from interconnectors and storage with the rest from low carbon dispatchable and CCS. 

The key takeaways from the report are that:

  • Energy storage is key, alongside development of low carbon dispatchable generation
  • All types of demand-side flexibility will be needed
  • Smart technologies and agile markets unlock flexibility from across the energy system.
  • Integration, interconnection and diversity of supply will be critical

It’s a graphic-heavy interactive document which allows the user both to  dip in or skim through or to drill down to some the underlying analysis. I found it fascinating and well worth a play.



Energy UK Small