Produced by The Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy and Ofgem, Transitioning to a Net Zero Energy System: Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan 2021 sets out how the UK will transition to a smart, flexible, decarbonised energy system.

We’ve taken a close look at the plan and here’s our summary:

Quick overview

Published at the end of July 2021, the plan highlights the system flexibility needed over the coming years and decades in order to achieve the UK government’s carbon reduction commitments. It also looks to ensure security of supply as the UK transitions from fossil-fuelled power generation to renewables, and as total power demand is expected to dramatically increase amid electrification of heating and transport.

Summary of the four main sections

  1. Consumer flexibility – supporting businesses and households to participate in demand management/shifting to benefit from lower prices at times of high supply/low demand.
  2. Storage – preserving surplus renewable energy for periods of high demand/low generation through batteries, pumped storage and vehicle-to-grid technology.
  3. Flexible generation – topping up supply at short notice when needed.
  4. Smart grids & interconnection – moving electricity across the UK to where it is needed and to/from other connected markets when required.

Key takeaways

Interestingly, the plan acknowledges risks attached to point 1 above – and arguably the other points – and how these could actually materialise.

Here we’ve observed the risks that the government has highlighted:

› Without action, demand will often be ‘peaky’ – with households simultaneously switching on heating systems and charging electric vehicles when they get home from work.

› The need for flexibility will rapidly increase as variable renewable power replaces fossil fuel sources, and we electrify heat and transport. The report estimates that when we have 40GW of wind on the system in 2030, we will need around 30GW of low carbon flexible assets (storage, demand side response and interconnection) to cost-effectively integrate high levels of renewables. This represents a threefold increase on today’s levels.

› Without low carbon flexibility assets, we risk either inadequate energy security or having to build more unabated gas in the same period.

› It will be very difficult to achieve the deep power sector decarbonisation needed to achieve the sixth Carbon Budget without significantly higher levels of system flexibility.

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