How to Cross the Bridge
I was at an event last week and over dinner we got to talking about the challenges the power sector currently faces. There was general agreement that the networks that had been developed in the 50’s and 60’s had done a good job of meeting our needs but that now there was a need to significantly reconfigure the networks in response to de-carbonisation. The expectation was that, sometime in the future we would get back to a settled design that would hopefully do the job for another fifty years.
The question we were debating was whether a different approach was necessary by the industry as we move through this transition. The analogy that occurred to me was an army marching over a bridge; we all know that the soldiers have to break step or they might not reach the other side. It seems to me that something similar applies now. I can think of three reasons why you might need to work differently, all different versions of a basic premise; at this moment no one has all the knowledge about the networks. Firstly, as the DECC Future Power System Architecture Project concedes, it is no longer possible to split the networks into separate components and treat them independently; now that generation appears across the network this doesn’t work and there is a need to address the whole system. That brings together the transmission and distribution operators along with a host of new market players such as demand aggregators.
Secondly, innovation and digitization means that we now have people who have access to a new technical toolbox and people who understand the needs of the networks but very few people who know both. To overcome this gap those with the problems should share their requirements more openly with those with the technology so that they can develop the best solutions. This might be something that OFGEM can accommodate in their changes to the NIA and NIC.
Thirdly, assumptions. I have been working at the disruptive end of energy systems most of my career and what I have found is that innovation always challenges industry assumptions. When you dig into those assumptions you tend to find that they either reflect a genuine concern that has to be addressed or simply an assumption that needs changing. The only way you can tell them apart is by a detailed debate between the two parties. That debate is difficult and requires an openness to challenge in both directions.
So, in summary, yes, I believe we need to break step if we are going to cross the bridge and that means a recognition that few of us have all the answers but between us we do.