The UK Government recently set out its Ten Point Plan for what is referred to as the “Green Industrial Revolution,” an all-encompassing phrase to drive the UK toward a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. It’s a bold and ambitious plan that touches on several aspects that are close to PSC’s heart as specialist consultants to the electricity industry. In this blog series, Gary Landels asks questions of PSC’s industry experts in the offshore wind, transmission and distribution sectors and discusses what impact and potential solutions could be developed and/or implemented to help ensure the targets set in the UK’s Ten Point Plan can be achieved.
In the first of this series of three blog posts, I talked to Mike Hook about the offshore wind targets in the UK’s new Ten Point Plan. For this second post, my conversations centered around the significant implications the UK governments’ plan to decarbonize how we produce and consume energy will have on the transmission system.
For this, I went to my PSC colleague Steve Nutt to share his thoughts on how the UK transmission network will transition to meet the changing needs of both generators and consumers.
Steve has over 35 years of experience in Power System Operations and Planning. As a Chief Engineer, he’s been involved in the development of Security Standards and Grid Codes to enable the connection of renewable generation and carried out renewable generation compliance checks. Steve’s in-depth domain knowledge, gained from experience directly within utilities and as a consultant, led me to ask him these questions.
GL: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the UK transmission network as they continue their transition towards supporting a net-zero carbon economy?
SN: A challenge the electricity industry is only starting to really understand is that the current transmission system isn’t architecturally aligned with the changing generation profile. Historically the UK had these large thermal plants that we relied on for decades, and the network was designed to optimally transmit that power to the rest of the country. Those days are gone, and we now see a changing energy mix: large in-feeds from offshore wind in different parts of the country, and a network challenged to transfer that power with limited capability to build new infrastructure to cope with this shifting balance.
GL: What tools can transmission companies use to accommodate this shift?
SN: Probably the most helpful is ancillary services or balancing. These are additional facilities that generators or independent suppliers can sell to the Electricity System Operator (ESO) to enable the network to operate securely. Services like Black Start and Frequency Reserve have always been there. Still, with the increased levels of renewables utilizing variable speed drives, we reach a point where ensuring fault levels are adequate to operate equipment appropriately is needed. This was something the large thermal or nuclear units provided. Now we must consider alternative methods, such as synchronous condensers or other innovative mechanisms. At present, National Grid is looking to procure services along these lines with the Pathfinder initiative.
GL: Do you see other service provisions needed to support the transition to net-zero?
SN: There is an ongoing debate as to whether synthetic inertia is necessary to maintain current operational characteristics. I’m not sure if – rather than maintaining a system built on a historical premise – we embrace the changing nature of the energy mix and find innovative ways to use reduced inertia to our collective advantage. PSC worked with ENTSO-E and the Nordic TSOs (Svenska Kraftnät, Energinet, Fingrid and Statnett) and found that networks are surprisingly resilient to the change. With a few changes to our operating philosophies in the UK, we could certainly be capable of doing the same.
GL: Please read the last post in this series when I interview PSC’s Dr. David Mills about how the UK electricity distribution business will transition to meet the changing needs of both the suppliers and their consumers, again in the context of the UK’s Ten Point Plan.
 Frequency reserve is the autonomous response of generators and demand response to deviations of system frequency, usually as a result of the instantaneous outage of a large supplier.
 Inverter-based resources (wind, solar, storage) that react fast so as to mimic rotating mass inertia.
 Frequency Based Emergency Disconnection Policy Review for the Nordic Region (statnett.no)