FPSA2: Addressing needs of current & future energy system users

Published: 27 February 2017

The established GB electricity system functions at a level that allows customers to have all the power that they need to run their devices and appliances. Technology is changing ever more quickly and having profound effects on the electricity system, as well as in the home. The emergence, for example, of affordable solar generation is already creating bottlenecks and making the system more unstable and harder and more expensive to keep in balance. Much less conventional generation is connected to the transmission system, with the growth of solar and wind providing much of what we need already.

If customers’ needs change, the system needs to change to match. FPSA2 is working to understand how to align Britain’s electricity system to the needs of future users and low carbon technologies, ensuring both operational capability and improved agility to respond to ongoing change, while keeping costs down. Understanding and addressing the needs of users of the energy system is vital. Engaging with both current and future users is a key aim of FPSA2, as is understanding how future technology may have benefits and disadvantages for the system. Mike Kay looks at how this is being delivered.

What do customers want from electricity delivery in the future? Probably much as now, for it to be reliable, cheap and really something that doesn’t actually require much thought! Which is how it should be, but if customers are investing in solar cells, storage, electric vehicles and heat pumps (as replacement central heating) then those managing the overall electricity system need to understand what is driving customer behaviour and ensure that the system continues to meet their needs.

FPSA2 is also very aware that many cities are trying to be more integrated in terms of transport and low carbon living generally, and that there is a growing movement in some localities for community-owned and traded energy production.

FPSA2 is being managed and delivered through six Work Packages (WP). I am the lead for WP1 of which essentially is the lens through which the project is seeing the world, as though through customers’ eyes. WP1A is focusing on current customers, across a range of interests, and is engaging with a sample via a structured interview process. To date just over a dozen customers have been interviewed, and already a picture is starting to emerge of how these customers want the sector to develop. It is the project’s intention to interview another two dozen key customers and stakeholders in the next four to six weeks.

WP1B is taking a slightly different tack. Current customers can easily speculate on how they would like to see the electricity sector develop, and this provides a lot of insight. However, we all know how much technology changes and what surprising opportunities this gives rise to; often opportunities that were not in the minds of those doing the development. And given that the overall time horizon of FPSA is out beyond 2030, we are trying to forecast what services etc that future customers will want, with a technology context that has moved on a long way from where we are now.

So WP1B is reviewing trends and research to try to provide insight into what customers in 2030 and beyond will be needing from the electricity system. In fact, WP1B also recognises the convergence of the management of energy rather than just electricity and is considering how for example local supplies of gas and electricity might be jointly traded off against each other in a low carbon future.

Customers are key to the future energy system and our insights, which will be reported in the Spring will enable FPSA2 to start to develop the future energy system.

Mike Kay, FPSA2 Work Package 1 Lead