Goodbye Homer Simpson: How local grid operators can embrace an energy flexibility mindset

Say ‘power plant’ and the average person might think ‘nuclear’, picturing a lone Homer Simpson with his feet up at his workstation. Yet over 30 years since The Simpsons first graced our TV screens, the Springfield model of a centralized power provider is an increasing non-reality. As the world moves to a lower carbon future, more intermittent energy assets, such as solar PV and wind farms, are being connected to distribution networks.

This rise in intermittency is increasing the strain on local grid operators’ networks, with new and complex demands that require greater energy flexibility to help match electricity supply and demand.

In response, operators like Western Power Distribution (WPD) are creating entirely new ways of managing energy without the need for costly infrastructure upgrades. Serving almost half of the British population’s electricity needs, WPD was early to the game when they launched Flexible Power in 2017, a solution that enables businesses to access local flexibility requirements, declare their capacity to provide flexibility, receive dispatch signals and view performance and settlement reports in one place.

In partnership with Kiwi Power’s virtual power plant (VPP) platform Kiwi Core, Flexible Poweraggregates and dispatches flexible energy assets onto its network exactly when and where they are needed. The innovation was so successful that since inception, , four further grid operators have joined the programme – allowing participation across Scotland, Wales and all of England except the south-east.

This blog outlines the four fundamental characteristics that WPD’s four-year journey uncovered that other distribution system operators will need to consider when pursuing greater energy flexibility.

  1. An open mind and an appetite for risk

Improving grid reliability has historically been considered an engineering challenge, with 100% risk mitigation prioritised head and shoulders above other operational and economic considerations. A rapid pivot towards customer-facing solutions and innovative approaches has since expanded the remit of DSOs beyond the maintenance and development of pure physical infrastructure.

For many, this will require an entirely new way of thinking. Local grid operators are no longer completely holding the reins, with the procurement of energy flexibility from asset owners meaning some control is handed over to the programme’s participants. DSOs will need to be comfortable with this risk and consider different strategies for ensuring supply meets demand; for example, incentivising competition and oversupply within the programme.

  • A short-term, adaptable approach

While an engineering solution would have traditionally been required to last for decades at a time, flexibility programmes are, by their nature, dynamic and it is nearly impossible to predict what the energy landscape will look like in five to ten years.

In turn, DSOs need to instil within their teams a culture of evolution and the ability to adapt at speed. The energy transition and electrification are moving quickly, and a solution implemented today might need to quickly pivot to accommodate changing external factors in just a matter of months.

  • Access to a capable analytics team and good quality data

Local grid operators require a capable analytics team to know exactly what capacity is needed, where and when, and to be able to forecast confidently in the short-term. However, with the best will in the world, the right team will never reach its full potential unless it is fuelled with the right data. Quality data that is both granular and accurate is essential to managing a complex network where electricity flow is bi-directional. Appropriate use cases and financial models need to be developed to mitigate the cost associated with dispatching flexibility, and expectations must be tested against reality.

  • New skills and a flexible software solution to match

Flexibility programmes will demand broader resource requirements. First, existing departments and their teams will be forced to adapt and expand. New departments dedicated to the flexibility programme may even need to be established.

An easy-to-use yet powerful energy technology solution will also be an essential component of any programme, helping to simplify and de-risk the route for local grid operators who will be busy with the wider evolution of skills, resources, culture and mindset.

Unlocking the future

To unlock the many benefits of energy flexibility – including increased profit, decreased overheads, reduced carbon footprint and improved reliability of supply – every local grid operator will need an easy-to-use digital platform to create and use their own VPP.

As the world’s leading VPP platform for execution, Kiwi Core enables local grid operators across Europe to introduce energy flexibility programmes without needing to make changes to their central control systems.

Our technology makes it easy to engage flexibility suppliers with ready-made, simple features to register, connect and monitor their assets, track real-time availability of assets, dispatch assets, monitor dispatches, track discrepancies and provide the data required for downstream settlement and billing. This allows local grid operators to innovate at their own pace with limited risk exposure while staying ahead in a challenging market. Beyond any single DSO, Kiwi Power improves collaboration across local grid operators – for example through the introduction of Flexible Power – for the benefit of the end consumer.

A massive transformation is underway in our global energy system. The future is virtual, flexible and decentralized. Hello Matt Groening? Time for an update.

To learn more about how Kiwi Power collaborated with local grid operators to introduce Flexible Power, download our whitepaper or get in touch with our Senior Sales Manager Prem Ramachandran at pramachandran@kiwipowered.com.