Nicky Conway, Sustainable Development Manager, Safety, Health and Sustainability at National Grid talks about decentralised energy this #GreenGBWeek and why National Grid are participating in PowerPaired.

Before I joined National Grid nearly three years ago, I worked with communities and organisations who wanted to establish renewable energy schemes. I remember their frustration with the insufficient capacity on the system, long lead times and expensive connections to incumbent networks that were halting the growth of distributed energy generation. This is not that surprising given the system was designed for a centralised model.

New innovations, such as micro grids, aim to replace parts of the electricity transmission system grid, or at least the need for expensive reinforcement. Despite many scenarios and predictions, (including National Grid System Operator’s Future Energy Scenarios), no one knows what the energy sector will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, but is highly likely to include a high level of distributed and renewable energy.

The electricity transmission system will need to adapt to an active, two-way system that is part of a decentralised, decarbonised and digital energy system. The demand for more sustainable energy is accelerating the pace of change within the energy industry.

Faster-than-expected price reductions for key technologies have boosted the speed of developments in areas such as solar energy, energy storage and electric vehicles. The digitisation of energy networks from generators to households is further changing how people engage with energy. The National Grid is evolving as it faces the challenge of adapting its networks to meet new demands and making sure it acts on the opportunities that will benefit customers and stakeholders. 

Since joining, I’ve been impressed by the initiatives and innovations that the company is seeking to meet these demands and create headroom for different generation mixes and scales. There is a Network Capacity Map to show where capacity exists for smaller developers without having to wait for reinforcement. A Carbon Intensity Tool, created in partnership with World Wildlife Fund, which allows people to see how ‘clean’ the energy in their region will be for up to 48 hours ahead.

The South East has one of the most complex networks in Europe where new generators had no opportunity to connect. An extra 300 MW of additional capacity was found and last year National Grid made a further 8.8GW of connection agreements with the distributed generator in the South East. National Grid is building new assets in the most sustainable way possible, but the challenge remains for National Grid to continue to adapt quickly enough to match the relentless pace of change in the energy system.

Community energy should form part of this transition, to shape and benefit the energy system of the future.

I’m personally delighted to see that National Grid is part of PowerPaired, which enables it to see if any of its non-operational land could be used by community energy groups. National Grid is not able to generate energy due to its licence conditions and there are many demands to use its land for other elements such as battery storage.

PowerPaired offers another potential way to support distributed generators with community energy, battery storage and the electricity transmission network all co-located and working together. Setting this up might be challenging, getting the technical, governance and commercial arrangements that benefit everyone. But I believe it’s the right thing to do, working with communities and this is another way that National Grid and community energy could sit side by side.

For more information about PowerPaired please get in touch with:

Rebecca Lawson

If you're interested in this, we have also recently just launched a report on the Future of Community Business