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Government shares vision for digitised energy system as it pursues net-zero emissions target

Strategy is geared towards readying the UK energy system for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable power through digital transformation

The government wants to digitally revamp the UK’s energy system to make it smarter and more responsive in pursuit of its goal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Two strategy documents detailing its plans dropped earlier today, with the first setting out the government’s roadmap to decarbonising the UK energy system, along with plans to boost the network’s interactivity and responsiveness through the deployment of smart technologies.

The 89-page Transitioning to a net zero energy system strategy document, which is co-authored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and energy regulator Ofgem, said these changes are needed to ensure energy security as the UK takes steps to become a renewably-powered economy.

This transition will see the country add 40GW of offshore wind power to the National Grid by 2030, for example, while also ramping up its reliance on other low-carbon sources of energy – including solar and hydrogen.

However, where wind and solar power are concerned, it can be difficult to predict day-to-day how much will be generated, and the energy system will need to be upgraded to ensure homes and businesses do not suffer power cuts during peak periods.

This is of particular concern because the government has also committed to phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030, which means demand for electric vehicles is likely to soar, resulting in additional pressure on the National Grid.

“We need to ensure that these new technologies are integrated onto the system while maintaining the balance of electricity supply and demand and minimising the amount of generation and network needed to meet our demand needs,” the report said. “That requires a smart, flexible energy system.”

Such a system will enable homes and businesses to store up low-carbon forms of electricity during peak periods in battery form, and those with electric cars will also be able to sell any surplus energy they have back to the grid, it added.

There is also potential for smart grids to be built that will enable the UK to trade power with other countries as needed during peak and trough periods. “This allows differences in weather patterns to be levelled out across large areas, for example importing electricity from Europe when it is windy there, and vice versa,” said the report.

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As well as helping the UK government to achieve its climate change goals, it is claimed that initiatives such as these will generate savings of up to £10bn a year by downsizing the amount of energy generation infrastructure needed to meet peak period power demands, and will also create up to 24,000 jobs by 2050.

“The UK is a global leader in smart systems and there is significant export potential for the solutions that we will need to deploy at home,” said the report. “As nations confront the challenge of climate change, markets for new green products and services will spring up around the world.

“Taking action now will help position UK companies and our world-class research base to seize the business opportunities which flow from it, creating jobs and wealth for our country.”

Making these opportunities a reality will require the UK’s energy system to become digitised, which is the subject of the second report put out today by BEIS and Ofgem, as well as the UK innovation agency Innovate UK.

“All parts of the energy system – demand, supply, markets, networks – need digitising to create a more efficient ‘whole system approach’, but our current services are underdeveloped and inconsistent,” said the trio in their Digitalising our energy system for net zero report.

But digitisation is urgently needed to ensure the UK energy system has the flexibility and robustness needed to deliver on the government’s net-zero goals.

“We need to move quickly,” the report continued. “Digitisation enables the system to operate flexibly, optimising assets across our networks so they can be integrated at least cost to consumers.”

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