Seizing the Smart Grid Opportunity: A strong investment case for smart grids today

22 Apr 2013

An industry-wide conference on seizing the opportunities for a smart grid last week (Tuesday 16 April) heard from Government, Ofgem, the EU Commission and the industry itself on smart grid development and the challenges to be overcome for the benefit of UK Plc. The conference was co-hosted by Energy Networks Association, SmartGrid GB, BEAMA, Intellect and Energy UK.

The aim of the event was to bring together for the first time all the key associations in the industry to address the key market barriers and policy challenges facing the industry today. The UK has already made considerable progress in addressing the future needs of our energy system and smart grid development through LCNF and RIIO. Going forward we need to ensure further regulatory and policy certainty.

Industry representatives summing up the days discussion stressed that we are already in a position in the UK to invest in smart grid technologies. The first set of standards provides a good framework to support the market going forward and there is a strong investment case for smart grids today, with significant UK manufacturing opportunities and export potential.

Howard Porter, BEAMA CEO stated, “We are very pleased with the outputs from this event and we will continue to work with ENA, Energy UK, Smart Grid GB and Intellect to ensure the co-ordination of work, and importantly look to cooperate in working with Government to address some of the outstanding challenges the industry face. We hope to hold future events together as the market develops”.

Chairing the opening session with Ofgem and the EU Commission, Energy Networks Association Chief Executive David Smith said, “The time of a build and forget approach to our networks is over and the next decade will see the rewiring of Britain. This conference was a great opportunity to share the exciting and innovative work already taking place on our UK networks but also to look ahead at how we can grasp the benefits of a smart grid even more.”

Hannah Nixon, Senior Partner for Distribution at Ofgem spoke of the progress in the UK and recognised the "huge uncertainty" around low carbon technology take up, however, with decarbonisation, increased demand and ageing infrastructure it was vital challenges were overcome, "Consumers should get the networks they deserve and we want networks to step up to that challenge. The Low Carbon Networks Fund has been highly successful and networks must utilise the learning from this. There will be great value from the Smarter Networks Portal which ENA will be launching."

This was reinforced later in the day by Dora Guzeleva, Head of Distribution Policy at Ofgem, who added it was "Essential to effectively capture learning coming out of LCNF projects."

Valérie Lorgé, Program Manager for the Smart Grid Task Force in the European Commission praised the achievements in the UK so far, specifically highlighting the UK’s Smart Meter rollout as an example of good practice and praised the transparency and pioneering approach to smart meter rollout in the UK. The European Commission is keen to see this success continue as Smart Grids are developed in the UK.

Valerie concluded, "We are facing a true evolution of energy as a result of the 20/20/20 targets and smart grids will provide a solution. It will be a complex but effective solution with multiple pieces of this complex puzzle. Standards, data handling and regulation will all play a role, that is why a successful smart meter roll out is so important."

A focused discussion on standards development from a UK, EU and International perspective, highlighted the need to improved UK representation at European level, through the work of the CEN CENELEC Smart Grid Co-ordination group, who were commended for their work in developing the First Set of Standards. It was recognized that the industry face resourcing challenges in ensuring UK representation on EU and international standards committees. There is a need to draw in expertise from industry and channel this through the standards process; this is especially so given the considerable work through LCNF which will generate important outputs to inform European standards. The industry will work with BSI to discuss how best to take this forward through the relevant committees.

David Spillet, Engineering Policy and Standards Manager from the Energy Networks Association stated “We need to avoid gold plated standards but develop cost effective standards fit for purpose”. Laurence Carpanini, Director of Smart Metering and Smart Grids at IBM UK Ltd, added in the final remarks that, “Setting standards for smart grids is a complex task; there are already a huge number of standards; what we need is a set of simple frameworks in place which will allow the market to develop and continue to innovate.”

Coming across throughout the day was the emphasis on the role that the consumer, both domestic and commercial, will play in developing a smart grid. Dora Guzeleva, Head of Distribution Policy at Ofgem, stated the “Consumer is instrumental to Smart Grids, the benefits from LCNF and the new innovation stimulus in ED1 will need to flow to the consumer.” Lawrence Slade from Energy UK added that the industry is in a good place to step change consumer engagement with the establishment of the Central Delivery Body to support smart metering from July.

Harriet Bulkeley, professor of Geography, Durham University, highlighted the work of the customer led network revolution, a successful LCNF project which looks at the customer role and engagement process. Harriet highlighted that if we are to realize the consumer benefits of smart grids we will need to rethink the way we, the industry, engage with customers, developing new relationships with network operators and other future service providers in the industry, as the market structure evolves to provide demand side services for domestic customers.

Howard Porter, CEO at BEAMA, added to this in demonstrating the role smart meter rollout will play in providing the first step in developing a domestic market for smart grids and demand side response. Smart Meters are viewed as an enabling technology for smart grids and can facilitate more advanced demand side services. BEAMA have been doing a lot of work in addressing the functionality of ‘smart homes’ and how the mandated smart meter will fit into a more sophisticated domestic energy system, allowing automation and control across a wide range of low carbon technologies. Howard Porter told delegates that, “The development of the Consumer Access Device will be critical to ensuring more advanced capabilities for demand side services in the home.” Providing communication with low carbon technologies and the home area network, this will be key to the interoperability of low carbon technologies.

Lawrence Slade from Energy UK highlighted the importance of events like the Smart Grid forum to encourage “co-operation across the industry. Building the smart grid is going to require all parties, from government and industry, to work closely together to avoid delays and ensure effective consumer engagement."