What are the drivers of innovation in network asset management?


As UK-wide net zero goals loom, network asset and performance management specialists face the looming challenge of ensuring aging infrastructure is ready for revolutionary changes such as full chain flexibility and exponential growth in distributed energy resources.

Progress under such unfavorable conditions will require rapid industry-wide innovation in areas such as the digitization of the asset base and network processes, as well as an increased and growing focus on the sharing of assets. data – all of which need to be undertaken with low carbon sensitivity, community and biodiversity implications.

With that in mind, heads of asset management, operations and delivery traveled to Utility Week’s 2021 Network Asset Performance Conference – a UW’s first hybrid event – alongside a range of stakeholders. influential to share their way of innovating in the face of a multitude of new and fluctuating. market forces.

Here are some of the main drivers of innovation they highlighted:

Accelerate the industry’s green revolution

Discussing National Grid’s energy flow control valves to improve grid performance – a world first for transmission – Stewart Whyte, head of grid control and transformation at National Grid, explained that a key goal innovation on today’s network is to accelerate what he referred to. like the “green revolution”.

Although he stressed that “still a lot to do”, he described three main ways of achieving the net zero goals: decarbonizing assets in line with science goals; connect new customers to wind, solar and battery points; and capacity building for new customers on the production side.

Whyte, however, expressed excitement tempered by concern about future technological developments in network assets, citing the importance of keeping the industry on the path it has already embarked on when it comes to environmental challenges.

In conclusion, he said that while achieving net zero is the most important industry-wide challenge facing the industry – and an unprecedented challenge – he is comforted by the fact that this is a problem that industry experts face “collectively”.

However, he cautioned that regulatory and government support is essential to successfully complete the race to net zero.

Emphasis on “holistic” network planning

Describing Ofgem’s role in setting up low-carbon infrastructure investments, Vlada Kolosyuk, Senior Director, Grid Price Control, at the regulator stressed the need for cross-sector programs in areas such as than low carbon infrastructure.

She explained that holistic planning of networks was key to their creation and that there is an acute awareness that networks need to scale faster and be more connected during the next phase of net zero transition.

Kolosyuk added that the themes to be addressed collectively included strategic investment and issues such as the future of hydrogen and gas.

Digitization to cope with the scale of asset growth

Laura Sandys CBE, currently chair of the Energy Digitization Task Force, added that digitization was a key factor in net zero transformation, in the face of the looming ‘climate emergency’ and the transition to ‘seismic change. »The number of actors. and in the energy sector – from around 400 to around 100 million.

While she said the UK is already doing “very, very well” in terms of managing this transition, challenges such as the role of data and the diversification of consumer needs remain to be addressed.

“We’re all going to have to get a lot more savvy when it comes to algorithms and systems design,” Sandys added. “We will not be able to continue as we are, having lived in a linear energy system – grids will be at the heart of this.

She explained that analog approaches wouldn’t be enough as the industry seeks to unlock customer-centric products and tackle fundamental changes in the way customers and the offering interact.

An increasingly complex consumer environment

Sandys added that a whole new level of visibility, knowledge, algorithms and analytics will be required as customer profiles and energy needs evolve.

“This will make the customer environment much more complex,” she said, adding that the industry faces an additional challenge of working across networks and with new partners.

Sandys also highlighted the need for greater digital literacy and an ability to learn from other sectors. “We lack digital skills and we need more experience of partnering with digital natives,” she explained.

“Accept the fact that the journey has begun, that we are all in the same boat, and that digitization will be a crucial part of our energy system as we move towards net zero and delight customers in a carbon-free way. “

Role of actors and local authorities

The gathered experts were also unanimous on the fact that the local actors and authorities would be a solid element of the future innovation and the growth of approximately 400 to 100 million network actors, as pointed out by Sandys.

They agreed that the role of local authorities would extend from providing accurate data and information to networks and managing the local implications of decisions made at the national level, to assisting in the modeling of different options. within zones and the fundamental role of the “honest broker,” according to Whyte of National Grid.

Eliane Algaard, director of operations at SSE, added that working with local authorities to develop regional network plans had helped her company identify opportunities for deploying low-carbon technologies, for example, and offered a way out of mindsets. partitioned.

Quality of analyzes and data use

Discussing data interoperability and the net zero transition of assets, Eric Brown, CTO at Energy Systems Catapult, explained that interactions between assets are going to be as important as the assets themselves in the years to come. to come.

With this, he explained that the intelligent use and flow of data has the potential to create more informed decisions and innovations in broad areas such as investment and carbon footprint. He stressed that good data in creative hands can do “a lot of good and do a lot”.

John Harvey, senior consultant at software company Copperleaf, also made this point, emphasizing the power of business intelligence to build infrastructure for the future, create optimal investment programs, and ultimately create roadmaps to reach net zero.

Longer-term climate challenges

To close the conference, Dr Emma Ferranti of the University of Birmingham, Senior Lecturer in Engineering and Postgraduate Researcher Daniel Donaldson, presented a framework for climate adaptation in the electricity distribution network.

Detailing their own work with Electricity North West, the duo also discussed how owners and operators of assets can be more resilient to climate change and identify vulnerability and risks to assets.

They explained that NODs need to incorporate more stringent climate resilience and change into their long-term planning due to the changing impact of weather events such as flooding, rising temperatures, lightning strikes and high winds on assets.

Climate adaptation must become ‘business as usual’, they stressed, with important long-term thinking to prepare assets for climate change in the context of adaptation to lightning, storms and high winds.

See this content come to life at Utility Week Live, May 17-18, 2022 NEC Birmingham

New approaches to asset management and maintenance and smart water grid delivery are among the frontline challenges at the heart of Utility Week Live 2022’s live content program.

Check out the challenges and get alerted for tickets to the industry’s most anticipated meeting at Utilityweeklive.co.uk.

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