Welsh Future Energy Grid for Net Zero

Wales has set the highly ambitious target to reach Net Zero by 2050, which requires a re-think on the electricity and gas networks infrastructure needed to power low carbon transport and heating into the future.

Network investment is key to Wales’s decarbonisation and economic ambitions – and ensuring the investment is coherent, efficient, and timely – requires understanding the range of Net Zero pathways available to Wales’s 2050 energy system.

The Welsh Government appointed Energy Systems Catapult, as an independent and trusted body, to develop scenarios of the various paths Wales could take to decarbonise the energy system, drawing on the perspectives of a wide range of people across Wales.

The Challenge

The Senedd Cymru has set the highly ambitious target for Wales to reach Net Zero by 2050. Welsh Government intends to establish Wales as a global leader both in technologies that will power the future, and in global responsibility.

Wales’ Net Zero ambitions require a re-examination on the infrastructure needed, to deliver rapid and effective change, and to ensure Wales’ citizens are not left behind because of infrastructure designed for past needs. Wales’ ambitions for renewables to power transport and heat needs a transformation of the existing electricity and gas networks.

This means looking out to 2050 to understand what networks will be needed to support a Net Zero energy system and best serve the communities and places they support.

The Minister for Climate Change announced a project to establish the future requirements for the Welsh energy grid. The project will generate a set of whole energy system scenarios for Wales, based on common assumptions and consistent with the wider UK energy system, reflecting the unique characteristics and opportunities for the Welsh energy system. These outputs will help inform the steps needed for networks to evolve their network plans to support of the country’s Net Zero carbon ambition and the work needed to achieve this.

This work will inform Future Wales: the National Plan 2040′, and provide robust evidence to enable network operators to plan and build the networks we will need for Net Zero and the interim 2030 targets.

The Solution

Wales aims to be the first country to have a joint approach to developing gas and electricity networks. All the energy network operators in Wales, and the regulator Ofgem, have agreed to work with the Welsh Government to develop a long-term plan for energy networks.

  • The Welsh Government will take the strategic lead on the project, ensuring its thinking fits with  policies and priorities.
  • The network owners will provide resource to the process and use its outputs to inform their network plans.
  • Ofgem will provide independent and impartial advice to support the development of options.
  • Energy Systems Catapult will develop the whole system Net Zero scenarios, drawing on their extensive modelling expertise and their independence to facilitate the work. This will make sure that the interests of Wales, and not those of any one organisation, are at the heart of this work.

The work will be carried out alongside the programme of detailed Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) work across Wales, and the two projects will use the same evidence and assumptions.

The Approach

Energy Systems Catapult utilises their internationally peer-reviewed Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) – the UK’s leading techno-economic whole system model – that regularly provides in-depth evidence for industry, academia, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and Government.

ESME is independent of sector interests and identifies least cost-optimised decarbonisation pathways across the whole system.

This includes the complex interactions of power, gas, heat, and transport and the different ways in which our energy might be supplied, managed and consumed in the future. Constraints include net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets, resource availability and technology deployment rates, as well as operational factors that ensure adequate system capacity and flexibility.

Recent experience includes developing Net Zero scenarios for the UK as a whole within the Innovating to Net Zero (ITNZ) project, work for the Scottish Government and Wales and West Utilities (WWU).

The Innovating to Net Zero report modelled 100s of potential pathways to achieve Net Zero by 2050 – ramping up or down different technologies and behaviour changes – to understand the combinations, interactions and trade-offs of competing decarbonisation approaches.

In addition to the Catapult’s Quality Management System processes, outputs will be peer reviewed by Professor Jianzhong Wu (Cardiff University).

Energy System Modelling Environment

ESME is an independent, technology-agnostic and cost-optimised whole systems model helping design and deliver the future energy system.

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1. Stakeholder Engagement

We will work with the Welsh Government, network companies and Ofgem to agree common assumptions and modelling requirements and test key outputs with a wider set of stakeholders as the project progresses. A Steering Group will be established to oversee the strategic direction of the project and a broader stakeholder group established to gain expert input and test outputs at key moments in the project.

2. Evidence Review

To develop a robust evidence base we will review network plans and existing literature, relevant either in geography, subject matter and/or approach. We will then talk to relevant study authors and experts from Welsh Government, academia, and/or other informed organisations (e.g., Climate Change Committee (CCC)) with expertise in scenario development, sectors, modelling, and/or networks.

3. Modelling Assumptions and Requirements

ESME is an internationally peer-reviewed whole systems model, developed over a decade and with thousands of assumptions informed by tens of millions of pounds of primary research and peer-reviewed secondary research. Key ESME assumptions will be tested with the network companies operating in Wales to ensure transparency underpins the scenarios and subsequent modelling.

Discussions will be held with network companies on:

  • Modelling requirements.
  • Evidence underpinning network planning assumptions.
  • Key assumptions and value ranges identified in the Evidence Review.
  • Approaches to the scenario framework.

4. Analysis and scenarios model / framework

Data and feedback from Steps 2 and 3 will be brought together with our ESME assumptions to provide a draft set of modelling requirements and assumptions.

The framework will be discussed with network companies. A narrative-based approach, like that used in ITNZ, may be suitable. This approach is also used by the CCC and in National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios (FES).

5. Whole system modelling

Using ESME, pathways to 2050 will be produced in 5-year periods for between 3 and 5 different whole energy system scenarios. Initial model runs will test the scenarios and then iterations undertaken, before discussing initial outputs with stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement will then identify areas to refine before a final iteration

Once the scenarios are settled we will use ESME’s unique functionality to test scenario robustness. Infrastructure Transition Analysis Model (ITAM) will provide additional network insights within Wales in 2050.

6. Action Plan

This will identify actions for networks, Ofgem, Welsh Government and UK Government to enable optimal, long-term whole system network planning and operation. Our network, policy, regulation, and systems experts will use the modelling outputs to identify actions, including those that enable cross-vector and/or transmission and distribution collaboration.

We will develop the actions further, test compatibility and prioritise. Workshops will then define strategic planning principles for Wales. The final output will support Welsh Government engagement with network planning, regulatory processes and further work.

Figure 1: Methodology Overview

Figure 1: Methodology Overview

The Timeline

The project will be delivered in two phases.

Phase 1: January 2022 to June 2022

  • Establish a common set of modelling requirements and assumptions for use in modelling.
  • Assemble all the evidence. This will build on existing modelling, including the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios, the grid companies’ distributed energy scenarios, the Net Zero 2050 South Wales work, and our own evidence on the future potential from offshore and onshore generation.

Phase 2: May 2022 to April 2023

  • Establish a small number of whole system energy scenarios (between 3 and 5) for the Welsh energy system.
  • Undertake whole system modelling based on the agreed scenarios.
  • Develop an ‘Action Plan’.

Whole Systems Modelling

Energy Systems Catapult offers a range of independent and technology-agnostic whole systems models to help design the future energy system and unlock innovation.

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