Energy Central Power Perspectives: Investing for Grid Flexibility: Exclusive Interview with Steve Atkins, DSO Transition Manager at Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks
image credit: Steve Atkins
- Sep 30, 2019 2:45 pm GMTSep 30, 2019 2:47 pm GMT
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Flexibility has quickly become one of the pillar grid assets that utility companies are looking to leverage when building the grid of the future. No longer do leaders envision an energy system run entirely by a central power plant with electricity sold and distributed directly to end-user, and in its place is a more interconnected, quick to adjust, a partnership that sees flexibility as key.
This transition to a more decentralized and distributed grid cannot happen overnight, though, and the need for smart investing, forward-looking decisions, and overall leadership is still robust. These needs are going to be the focus of Steve Atkins’ presentation at the upcoming Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference this week. Steve, a DSO Transition Manager with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, will share his talk entitled “Investing for Flexibility – developing a robust investment decision-making framework for weighing up flexibility investments with traditional grid reinforcement.”
To give a sneak preview of his talk, Steven spared a few moments to discuss this hot topic with me to share his insights with the Energy Central community:
Matt Chester: The Smart Grid Flexibility Conference proves to be one with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the world of utility data and technology. Can you give us a background of how you fit it? What’s your background in the utility space and how did you get involved in data-driven decision making for the industry?
Steve Atkins: My role is to understand the role of the DNO in the emerging smart grid, and data is absolutely fundamental to its future. It is key to unlocking system and consumer benefits and managing the transition to a low carbon economy. With energy increasingly decentralized, millions of assets – solar panels, batteries, electric vehicle charge-points, and heat pumps – will need to be able to communicate with system operators and market platforms. Transparent, accessible, interoperable, and accurate data will allow the markets to develop that will put consumers at the heart of this change while allowing system operators to support the proliferation of new business models and technologies.
MC: The overarching idea behind your presentation is the work you’ve done towards creating a framework for evaluating options around network capex investments to support ta wider industry approach. Why is this an area in which you see a valuable opening? What is currently being uncaptured due to utilities not embracing this type of tool?
SA: As a natural monopoly, system operators need to be able to facilitate the emerging flexibility market in a neutral manner so as not to distort competition. The decisions we make around flexibility services and reinforcing the network should be transparent and consistent and the tool we are working on with Frontier Economics helps provide that visibility and rigor.
MC: Have you found that this type of project and advancement is one that the utility industry has had a healthy appetite for, or do you find yourself having to pitch the idea and convince leaders about how useful it could be for them before attaining buy-in?
SA: System Operators have seized the initiative through the ENA (their trade body) to influence the outcome in the development of a U.K. energy industry that addresses the challenges the future will bring. Through the Open Networks Project, system operators are working hard to establish in the minds of policymakers the vital role networks will play in developing an energy sector that can handle the demands that come with tackling climate change and keeping energy supplies secure. At the same time, we have backed strongly efforts to put in place the skills to realise the ambitions for the future of the energy sector and indeed those of the U.K.
MC: You’ve clearly made some great and impactful progress with this prototype decision tool. What are the most significant challenges you feel you are coming up against next as you look to bringing this framework and tool to new heights?
SA: As you will hear in my presentation, the key issues are establishing the most valuable inputs for this framework to ensure the range of available options is evaluated correctly. For example, in such a nascent market how to arrive at a correct value for flexibility when competition has not had the opportunity to influence the price and how do you value the optionality that flexibility offers?
MC: As you look at the list of speakers and attendees of the Smart Grid Flexibility conference, what jumps out to you as one of the particularly hot topics that the industry is buzzing about? What do you most look forward to learning about while attending?
SA: The outputs from the recent Energy Data Task Force will have some wide-reaching (and welcome) implications for the industry and I’m keen to find out how other industry partners are addressing those recommendations.
If you're interested in learning more about flexible investments on the grid, be sure to attend Steve Atkins’ presentation this topic at the Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference this week in London, UK. You can learn more about the agenda and register for the conference here.