Increased policy uncertainty in the energy sector has caused grid management problems in the past and could prevent a swifter transition to a low-carbon network infrastructure, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has claimed.
Providing evidence to the energy and climate change select committee’s inquiry into a low carbon network, ICE said that “clear policy guidance” on the assumption of future network needs was pivotal to the network’s design.
The opinion of ICE is that the UK’s approach has historically been reactive, with a “presumption against strategic investment” unless there has been an immediate need to facilitate greater supply or demand.
This has led to “significant gaps” in network companies and regulators to predict policy shifts and subsequent rushes to install particular technologies. Solar has been the most notable in this field given the rush to deploy the technology under the ROC regime cliff edges, which the ICE claimed had placed “significant stress” on transmission and distribution systems.
“Greater stability and predictability of policy would help network operators plan future development,” the ICE’s evidence read.
However the ICE did not consider there to be a need for a mass overhaul of the current infrastructure and said much of today’s networks will still be in service beyond 2050. Instead changes must be made to both enable and accommodate low carbon and distributed generation technologies.
This would in turn require greater deployment of smart systems for consumption, generation and network management, of which energy storage solutions would be a “key technology” moving forward.
The institution also commented on the need for red tape surrounding storage to be removed, building on hints energy secretary Amber Rudd made towards de-regulation of storage in the coming months during a landmark strategy speech earlier this week.
“At present DNOs’ (and the Transmission System Operator’s) licences prevent them from operating generation in the market and, therefore, they cannot control storage facilities, nor participate in demand side management or smart metering,” ICE said.
The secretary of state on Wednesday revealed that her department was to table a paper on energy storage shortly, looking specifically into removing barriers that have so far prevented the storage market from taking off.
ICE’s evidence of a required switch to a more decentralised energy system was bolstered by similar evidence provided by UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities, which said: “Large centralised baseload power stations will undermine moving towards a clean energy future, and simply result in more renewable electricity going to waste.”
It echoed comments previously made by departing National Grid chief executive Steve Holliday, who said in September that the UK market was undergoing a “tremendous transformation” towards more distributed generation that would not be stopped by government policy upheaval.
While Wednesday’s energy statement revealed government plans to shutter all coal-firing power plants by 2025, it intends to replace them with higher gas and nuclear generation, rather than distributed renewables.