Delivering on the Potential of Flexibility A smart flexible energy system in the transition to a net-zero economy

26 February 2020

Flexibility has been recognised by the Government, regulator and industry alike as a vital element of delivering a secure net zero energy system at lowest cost to consumers. In practical terms, this means using a wide range of controllable resources, from large-scale generation to domestic demand side response, to maintain not only secure but optimal operational conditions across energy networks.

Flexibility on the GB energy system is vital to two core elements of decarbonisation: 

  • System Decarbonisation: Enabling energy sector decarbonisation to continue being delivered at pace and at lowest cost to consumers to meet the UK’s legal obligations and a net zero ambition. 
  • Customer-led Decarbonisation: Supporting the uptake of low carbon generation, transport and heat assets at the demand side of the network at lowest cost to consumers.

Both elements are necessary to meet a 2050 net zero ambition, just as both are rapidly changing the nature of the energy system. Intermittency on the system will continue to increase as typically less controllable low carbon generation replaces typically controllable capacity from higher carbon sources.

At the other end of the system, a gradual increase in uptake of low carbon technologies like electric vehicles and heat pumps will significantly increase users’ potential to provide flexibility to the system as well as profoundly impacting demand profiles and capacity requirements. Ensuring appropriate price signals are in place will enable the energy sector to continue to innovate in delivering business models that utilise automation to integrate flexibility into assets while reducing the required direct engagement from consumers.

The UK made a bold statement in committing to a net zero ambition for 2050, supported by the energy industry. With this target looming, it is vital that we maintain our role as a world leader in decarbonisation. We must continue to develop technologies and expertise to realise the potential benefits of a smart flexible energy system and the export opportunities for technologies, skills, and services.