Grid flexibility: How can we make our grids more flexible to cope with the net-zero transition?

Grid operators around the world are rising to the challenge of how to adapt energy systems to cope with the growing contribution of renewable energy generation. We checked into Climate Action’s recent webinar and captured the key points to share with you.

Identifying the challenges

Carolina Tortora – Head of Innovation, National Grid ESO clearly identified the challenges which helped set the scene for the discussion that followed.

  1. The National Grid was originally designed around a thermal generation fleet. With its commitment to operating a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025, the grid needs to maintain supply while integrating more renewable energy supply. In the words of Tortora, it’s like ‘building a ship at sea’. 
  2. Forecasting has become more difficult. In the past, forecasting was based on the previous years’ consumption. This is changing as consumers are increasingly becoming ‘prosumers’. These are individuals and businesses that both produce and consume their own electricity and export their surplus to the grid in return for payments from electricity companies.
  3. Integrating thousands of new microgrids where there were only previously only 100-150 electricity providers is logistically challenging.
  4. Changes to inertia is a big concern. Traditionally inertia has been provided by the spinning power of big coal and gas-fired generators, making inertia a by-product of burning fossil fuels. Renewables like wind and solar don’t synchronise with the grid in a way that provides inertia, so as the older coal and gas plants come off the system, National Grid needs to find new ways to provide stability. 

Solutions at work or about to go live  

  • Creating inertia while reducing reliance on fossil fuels 
    The National Grid is in the process of generating inertia by modifying existing infrastructure and while this wasn’t discussed in detail during the webinar, more information on the approach can be viewed on its website.
  • Collaborating with other bodies to make the grid more flexible
    Stathis Mokkas – energy markets lead, UK Power Networks explained how UK Power Networks has created frameworks to bring small energy suppliers into the distribution system. He explained that this has happened very fast and it is continuing at pace. In his view this is because of political pressure and the decreasing cost of generating renewable energy.
    There was also a recognition that further collaboration would be needed with other sectors in society which involved transport because providing energy for electric vehicles (EVs) was going to increase.
  • Emerging technologies
    All panellists see the value that Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are having on making our grids smarter by allowing grid operators to manage the flow of electricity more effectively in real-time.
    In summing up, the moderator Roland Roesch – Deputy Director Innovation & Technology Centre, IRENA thanked the panellists and online audience for their active participation and reminded us that we mark World Environment Day on Friday 5th June.  

At Resonates, we work with companies that are driving forward innovation and carbon reduction across the three core areas of energy, transport and heating. We create strong, clear messaging and targeted communication strategies to enable them to share their technology with key stakeholders and maximise uptake of their low-carbon solutions.

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