Aspects of Integration – Supporting Systems Integration in Complex Energy Projects

Published: 26 May 2020

By Jon Friend, Systems Engineering Consultant, Energy Revolution Integration Service

Joining up the traditionally siloed energy system in the face of rapidly changing technology and demand is a huge challenge. Much of the electricity, heating and transport systems use essentially the same approach as they did decades ago, and the interactions between the different silos are limited or difficult.

Yet a combination of the Net Zero carbon target and rapidly changing technology – both decentralised and digitalised – are driving the need for new thinking about how it all fits together; how it is integrated. Distributed renewable energy and storage, the electrification of transport, a growing focus on low carbon heating and other emerging innovations, mean demand will increase for greater system flexibility, provided by digital products, services and data systems, at a local level.

Turning the concept of such Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES) into reality is far from straightforward. Managing the design of these more sophisticated and complex systems, being aware of risks, and considering the full socio-technical system perspective, will be needed if SLES’s are to become an essential part of the future energy system.

So the need for systems thinking and engineering is becoming more pressing.

Systems thinking is about having a big picture view and understanding the complex set of relationships between parts of the solution.

Systems engineering integrates multiple disciplines and speciality groups into a team effort forming a structured development process. It is a discipline which is common in a lot of industries, but which hasn’t (at a whole system level) been adopted in a big way within the energy system.

Aspects of Integration

The Energy Revolution Integration Service (ERIS) has developed a framework called “Aspects of Integration” to try to encourage systems thinking and to open up some of the benefits that systems engineering can offer.

We looked across many different industries, including defence and aerospace, to bring together a framework to support the energy sector when it comes to identifying risks around system integration. There are eight different aspects we believe are key when thinking how an innovative solution can fit into the existing and evolving energy system and its environment.

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Energy Systems Catapult created the Energy Revolution Integration Service – to provide expert guidance and support to SLES projects across the UK, as part of the £102 million Innovate UK funded Prospering from the Energy Revolution (PFER) programme under the Clean Growth Industrial Challenge.

ERIS systems thinking has focused on the connections between projects – how these local energy systems integrate with each other – and how they might integrate with broader national systems.


Availability and readiness of any new or existing technology required for the solution, and its manufacture, installation and commissioning.


Operation, Support and Maintenance of the solution. Disposal and Decommissioning or Withdrawal from service at the end of the planned lifetime. Reliability and Quality (continuous improvement) during the planned lifetime.


Consumer and cultural impact and readiness. Integration of human factors for operation and support of the solution. Training Needs. Job creation. Actors include people, companies, government and communities.


Availability, accessibility and security of any new or existing information required for the solution, and its management and operation.


Availability and readiness of any new or existing infrastructure required for operation or support of the solution.


Ability of the solution to work in harmony with current or planned parts of the WES and interrelated (sibling) solutions at the ‘system of systems’ level to meet local and national level objectives.


End to end order, manufacturing & logistics process in place.
Price & profit sustainability. Resilient to market fluctuations (exchange rates, competitor offerings).


Compliance with existing or planned policy, legislation and regulation. Need for any new or changed policy, legislation and regulation.


Applying the Aspects of Integration framework

The aim of the framework is to support projects to identify systems integration risks and to better understand the readiness of their solutions, and the project team’s ability to deliver them.

The benefits of this approach for projects:

  • Enable the project team to think about and consider the wider energy system integration points of their solution – identify where integration is required and what is the boundary of their project.
  • Provide a common language that can be used by people with different backgrounds and expertise to communicate complex ideas clearly
  • Enable risks to integrating elements of the overall solution to be identified in a structured way
  • Provide a mechanism for co-ordinating the parallel development of different aspects of capability that need to be brought together to deliver the project

How the framework helps the overall design:

  • Helping understand the overall system design & architecture.
  • Measuring a solution or capability against the aspects.
  • Identification of risks relating to integration.
  • Identification of gaps in knowledge or expertise that may be required to further develop solutions at an early stage in the design process.

How we apply the framework:

We have designed a four-stage, interactive process to help project teams apply the Aspects of Integration framework to understand key areas of risk for their solutions, in a collaborative way. This involves;

  1. Building the whole energy system view – what are the project elements, the boundaries and the internal and external integration points
  2. Expanding on connections between elements by considering the different aspects of integration categories to identify key risks and opportunities using a structured process
  3. Considering the maturity of the solution using the framework to identify areas that should be prioritised for further work
  4. Understanding the maturity of the organisations involved in the system design to identify if additional skills or learning is required to progress.

ReFLEX Orkney

ERIS has been supporting the PFER project ReFLEX Orkney with systems integration and applying the Aspects of Integration framework to help develop their Basis of Design.

  • The Basis of Design document is a record of the major thought processes and assumptions supporting design decisions made to meet the project’s requirements, together with reference to constraints such as national and international Codes and Standards.

Using the AoI framework to explore the solution architecture it was recognised that a separate design team needed to be established to take ownership of the integrated energy system design.

The design team consisted of members from each of the project partners with a variety of skill sets and levels of experience on the project. Therefore developing a common language to discuss a complex project was vital.

The team went on to develop an initial project Basis of Design, drawing upon ERIS  systems thinking and facilitation, training in Model Based Systems Engineering and an introduction to the Enterprise Architecture software.  In the three months following its inception, the design team was able to develop a basic system model using systems engineering software and use the results to inform the Basis of Design, which was accepted by UKRI as a project deliverable.


“Jon’s facilitation of integrated systems thinking helped the design team question, visualise and structure a common understanding of the ReFLEX Integrated Energy System, and what the model should contain in terms of actors, assets, interfaces, ontology, etc. This has given the team a firm foundation for further refining the Integrated Energy System (IES) model, fostering a common understanding within the wider ReFLEX project team, and potentially replicating the IES model nationally and internationally.”

Mike Holgate, Aquatera

We look forward to trialling this approach with other project teams within the PFER programme and if you would like to learn more, contact the Energy Revolution integration Service platform below.