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Flexibility in the Energy System

The term flexibility refers to the ability to react to the fluctuating needs of the power system, maintaining security of supply. Under requirements detailed in the Climate Change Act, the UK must reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% of 1990 emissions by 2050, and the UK energy market is rapidly transitioning to support this target. From a system primarily built upon large, centrally dispatched, flexible fossil fuel generation, the UK is manoeuvring to deliver increasing volumes of less flexible low carbon power. National Grid, as the System Operator (SO), recognises that “needs are increasing, most notably at the extremes” while conventional sources of flexibility are becoming less available due to continuing decarbonisation efforts.

Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and Demand Side Response (DSR) capabilities are growing steadily, expanding upon existing capabilities from pumped hydro and peaking plants to create a broader range of flexible energy assets. Flexibility is enabled in part by increasing digitalisation, helping to maintain balance on the system efficiently. Changing customer behaviours and infrastructure upgrades, including the roll out of Smart Meters, mean that demand is increasingly able to make valuable contributions towards maintaining security of supply.

Work in this space is led by Energy UK’s Flexibility Working Group. Originally established to feed into the Smart Systems and Flexibility workstream of BEIS and Ofgem its remit has now expanded to include leading on Energy UK inputs into the ENA Open Networks Project and the National Grid reform of Ancillary Services under SNaPS workstreams.

The Working Group recently set out Energy UK definitions of flexibility and positions on the future role of a DSO, and will soon set out roles and responsibilities for the future energy system, focussing on balancing responsibility and information provision. Further, in 2018, the Flexibility Working Group will:

  • Drive forwards BEIS and Ofgem actions from the SSFP, as well as identifying any gaps which should be addressed;
  • Aid in the development of a series of papers about the future of energy;
  • Provide a forum for members to engage with the Open Networks Project;
  • Support National Grid’s Power Responsive project;
  • Engage with the Smart Systems Forum on behalf of the energy industry.
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