ChristineChristine Chapter, head of innovation at Regen highlights the key enablers for a zero energy energy system, as discussed by Fintan Slye, director of the UK Electricity System Operator, National Grid.

Operating a Zero Carbon Energy System with Fintan Slye – Director of the UK Electricity System Operator at National Grid

The first in-depth interview in our ‘Leading the Energy Transition’ series was with Fintan Slye, the director of the UK Electricity System Operator (ESO) at National Grid, where he discussed the key enablers required to operate a zero carbon energy system. We now know we can produce very cost effective renewable power. The key challenge in decarbonising energy is running a secure electricity system with very high renewable generation.

The ESO pledge to be able to operate a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025 is a significant moment in our zero-carbon journey. The COVID-19 crisis and associated 20% decrease in electricity demand across the UK has brought to the fore some of the key challenges that will need to be solved to deliver this ambition. Fintan pointed out how the system has already coped with a huge growth in decentralised generation but identified several challenges that will need to be addressed to ensure system reliability including the drop in inertia as further fossil fuel stations come off the system and frequency response. Earlier this year, the ESO awarded £300m of contracts to procure inertia to provide core stability for the system (to come online from 2022 onwards) and he believes the markets for stability and inertia services will only continue to grow.

One challenge for a zero-carbon system is that ESO’s control room takes a technology neutral approach to calling on system services, calling on the most cost-effective option. This means that markets like the Balancing Mechanism could remain high carbon for some time whilst storage and other low carbon flexibility options continue to develop. Fintan was confident we can transition to more carbon-based decision if the market structures are revised to actively support low carbon technologies. A transparent policy framework will be essential to ensure value for money for the electricity consumer whilst enabling, and supporting, our net-zero ambitions.

The ESO recognise that decarbonising heat is a significant challenge. Not only does housing stock efficiency vary so considerably across the UK but 80% of our homes are currently heated by natural gas. In response to the question as to whether he thinks electricity heat, or green gas, will be the key solution to decarbonising heating, Fintan was clear we are likely to use a variety of different technologies in different places, including smart storage, heat pumps, hydrogen and district heating. (For more information around the challenges and opportunities to decarbonise heat please take a look at Regen’s recent insight paper here.)

Fintan concluded by speaking passionately about the need to continue to work collaboratively with the distribution networks and wider industry to enable the operation of a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025.

The next conversation in the series will be with Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Action Champion, where we’ll discuss how we can raise the ambition of international climate change. To book your place on this webinar please click here.

You can view the full interview with Fintan Slye online here.

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