Distribution system operators key to delivering an affordable, secure and sustainable energy future

Posted on: 28/03/2017

At peak times, more than 80% of heat and power demand is met by the gas network. As a business we want to see that continue – and we think it is essential that it does so as an industry we can meet the energy trilemma to deliver affordable, secure and sustainable energy to customers while also delivering on our carbon reduction commitments.  

Our belief in gas is not based on assumption or wishful thinking on our behalf. Working with leading consultants, we’ve built an energy simulator – unique amongst gas and electricity networks, that models future energy supply and demand in an integrated energy network. It also calculated the need for energy storage or interconnection requirements depending on the future energy pathway that is chosen.

The model’s conclusions are clear: Whether delivering energy in the form of gas direct to boilers and cookers in homes across the nation, or as a fuel for power stations (be they baseload or peaking plants to enable widespread use of renewables) and therefore serving as an energy battery, an integrated energy network, with gas and electricity system operators collaborating closely, is essential to deliver for energy consumers.

We’re working together with DNO Western Power Distribution on Project FREEDOM which could pave the way for a hybrid heating system that could meet a home’s energy needs by switching between an air source heat pump, a boiler powered by mains gas, and an electricity connection – depending on what was most cost effective at the time. If this sort of solution was to be rolled out around the UK, it would further increase the need for a collaborative approach to system operation.

Transport has a part to play in meeting our challenging decarbonisation targets too. With rail electrification and an increase in the use of electric vehicles as the sector’s response to the targets, it’s clear electricity and gas networks have a shared responsibility to support decarbonising transport too – with a gradually increasing proportion of transport powered by electricity generated by gas.

With distributed electricity generation entering the electricity grid across the country and green gases being injected into the gas network in an equally distributed manner, it is clear that the traditional, top down system operator and distribution operator relationship has changed in both sectors for good. It’s equally clear that gas – whether that’s green gas, biomethane, BioSNG, or a hydrogen blend,  is going to play a central role in not only electricity generation, but also in continuing to deliver affordable, secure and sustainable heat to homes for many years to come and as a key enabler in meeting our decarbonisation targets by supporting renewable energy generation. .

So DNOs becoming quasi-system operators like we are is a welcome step, and a key enabler to further collaboration so together we can deliver what energy customers right across the country need and expect – energy that is affordable, secure and sustainable.

Chris Clarke

Wales & West Utilities Director of Asset Management and HS&E