The voice of the networks

Open Networks

Britain’s energy landscape is changing, and new smart technologies are changing the way we interact with the energy system. Our Open Networks project is transforming the way our energy networks operate.

New smart technologies are challenging the traditional way we generate, consume and manage electricity, and the energy networks are making sure that these changes benefit everyone.

We’re helping transition to a smart, flexible system that connects large-scale energy generation right down to the solar panels and electric vehicles installed in homes, businesses and communities right across the country. This is often referred to as the smart grid.

The Open Networks project has brought together the nine electricity grid operators in the UK and Ireland to work together to standardise customer experiences and align processes to make connecting to the networks as easy as possible and bring record amounts of renewable distributed energy resources, like wind and solar panels, to the local electricity grid.

We’re also working with the UK Government (through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the energy regulator Ofgem, respected academics and industry trade associations.

We test key developments with an Advisory Group of experts, as well as seeking broader views through consultations, stakeholder forums, webinars and guest presentations.

The UK has a dynamic energy environment ranging from solar farms in sunny Cornwall to the offshore wind farms in Kent and the Moray Firth, and all the local generation projects in-between. As homes and businesses adopt these smarter technologies and connect them to the local distribution networks, how these resources are integrated and support the networks will define the future smart grid and ensure the overall grid is equipped to deliver the energy we rely on well into the future.

As demand patterns shift as a result of new technologies such as electric vehicles and heat pumps, and more local renewable power is connected, network operators will play a more active role in managing and operating their networks, allowing them to address periods of high and low demand and power outages more efficiently, including paying customers to help support the networks with their flexible solutions.

Areas of focus

The pace of change Open Networks is delivering is unprecedented in the industry, and to make sure the transformation of the networks becomes a reality, we have created six workstreams under Open Networks to progress the delivery of the smart grid.

Each year, the project produces a forward work plan and a Project Initiation Document to set out the priories and direction. The final document is informed through consultation with industry, giving everyone a chance to feed in on priorities and timescales for the project.

For 2020 the project’s workstreams are:

  • WS1A: Flexibility Services
  • WS1B: Whole Electricity System Planning and T/D Data Exchange
  • WS2: Customer Information Provision and Connections
  • WS3: DSO Transition
  • WS4: Whole Energy Systems
  • WS5: Communications and Stakeholder Engagement
  • Flexibility services

    More and more Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are becoming flexible, which can mean a range of things but ultimately means the ability to control or schedule demand and/or generation.

    Flexible technology can include batteries, solar and storage, combined heat and power, electric vehicles (EVs) and other technologies. As well as enabling the buying and selling of energy at specific times (also known as ‘energy arbitrage’), these flexible technologies can provide ‘flexibility services’ to electricity networks, to help solve congestion issues on the grid and release additional capacity, which in turn allows the connection of more low carbon technologies like renewables. These flexibility services are a cornerstone of the future smart grid.

    The detail underpinning the delivery of local markets for flexibility services has been driven through a dedicated workstream on flexibility services, which seeks to make the customer experience of providing flexibility services to the grid as seamless as possible.

    Providing a uniform experience for customers is important for easier navigation of the market, and key to incentivise more low-carbon generation.

    Search for ‘Flexibility in Great Britain’ in our Resource library to see where capacity is needed by the networks. Customers can bid to provide their energy to the networks, instead of building costly reinforcement, leading to lower bills for all. Explore our Flexibility in Great Britain timeline which lists flexibility tenders across all of the electricity network operators for 2019 and 2020. It includes links to each of the operators' flexibility tenders pages within the timeline, so you know how to get directly involved in these markets.

    As we move towards Distribution System Operation (DSO) and more local network management, flexibility services will be an essential resource for managing supply and demand – bringing bills down and helping decarbonise our electricity supply.

    2020 Development Work

    We are continuing to focus on standardising processes and making it easier to connect to the grid. The project team has identified seven key areas for development:

    • Active Network Management (ANM) vs Reinforcement Common Methodology
    • Procurement processes
    • Active Power Services Parameters
    • Commercial arrangements
    • New DSO services
    • Market facilitation – Non-DSO services
    • Baselining methodology
  • Whole Energy Systems

    By bringing together electricity and gas members, along with stakeholders such as local authorities, Open Networks is the first industry project to consider efficiencies across electricity and gas networks.

    By considering whole energy systems, we are looking to save consumers money by using the most efficient and cost-effective energy for network needs. The project is enhancing data sharing between gas and electricity networks, sharing information on managing network constraints, and improving short term forecasting to optimise existing processes through greater interaction.

    Investment planning is also a key focus of the whole energy systems work, taking existing network or specific gas or electricity processes and exploring the value of greater coordination, collaboration, refinement, and evolutions to deliver the most cost-effective solution to the consumer, as well as keeping the energy flowing.

    Work has already commenced on a whole energy system cost/benefit analysis to ensure that the best decisions are made for the public and the environment. As Britain looks ahead to the 2050 net zero emissions target (2045 in Scotland), considering efficiencies in the whole system will help us to achieve these.

    2020 Development Work

    This year, the Project identified several development areas to help make connecting to the grid as easy as possible for customers.

    • Whole Systems Cost Benefit Analysis
    • Real Time Operations and Forecasting
    • Whole System FES – Gas input to Whole Systems FES
    • Investment Planning
    • Coordinated Gathering Regional Data
    • Current Network Resource Data Analysis

    More information on these areas and their progress can be found in the Resource library.

  • Customer connections

    As smarter technologies become more commonplace in homes, businesses and communities, and consumers gain more control and visibility of their data, they will be able to make better-informed decisions about their energy usage.

    Better visibility of data has manifested itself in the System Wide Resource Register, which is now the Embedded Capacity Register following a code modification. The Embedded Capacity Registers present a uniform, standardised set of data of connected energy resources greater than 1MW. These registers will identify challenges and opportunities on the network and will provide a better understanding of how networks are used and will lead to better, more cost-effective investment, shorter and fewer interruptions, and secure the vital energy we rely on every day.

    The Open Networks Project is also making it easier, quicker, and clearer to connect to the grid, including those offering flexibility services. By refreshing processes in the queue for projects to connect, Open Networks has made it easier for flexibility projects to be promoted up the queue to connect quicker if they don’t need costly reinforcement to be built or have progressed to meet specific milestones quicker than anticipated.

    As our energy system goes through a net zero emissions revolution, data will form the bedrock. To make network data open for all, we have established the Data Working Group and are helping Ofgem and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy deliver the recommendations of the Energy Data Taskforce.

    2020 Development Work

    This year, the Project identified several development areas to help make connecting to the grid as easy as possible for customers.

    More information on these areas and their progress can be found in the Resource library.

  • Distribution System Operation transition

    Britain’s energy networks are planning and building a future power grid that leaves nobody behind, empowering homes, businesses, and communities to make the most of their electric vehicles, batteries, and solar panels to power us well into the future.

    Distribution System Operation (DSO) brings network decision making closer to consumers, with network operators managing the network at a local level with more control over local supply and demand. Managing the network through DSO can help to bring more low carbon flexibility services onto the network, reduce the need for reinforcement leading to lower bills, and avoid disruption by increasing performance in local networks.

    To realise this future smart grid, network companies, through the Open Networks project, launched the DSO Implementation Plan. This is an interactive roadmap that network companies will follow to reach DSO. Alongside the interactive roadmap we also have a full report and appendicies that provide a consolidation of outcomes from the project to set out a clear pathway to reach DSO.

    The roadmap takes into account all the key actions and decisions needed to implement DSO and will form the basis of regulatory and business planning for the networks as they work with Ofgem ahead of the next price control period.

    In preparation for Distribution System Operation, we have been keeping a register of any possible conflicts of interest and unintended consequences. The Conflicts of Interest and Unintended Consequences risk log analyses the Open Networks project’s work programme and captures any risks that could arise and potentially compromise the energy system’s ability to operate at its best and most efficient. It also includes the steps that need to be taken to resolve these potential problems, and who is responsible for making these changes whether it be government, networks, the regulator Ofgem, or someone else.

    2020 Development Work

    This year, the project’s DSO Transition development work continues its focus on transitioning to Distribution System Operation and identifying the potential risks on the way. For 2020, the project team has identified two key areas for development:

    • DSO Implementation Plan
    • Conflicts of Interest and Unintended Consequences Tracker

    More information on these areas and their progress can be found in the Resource library.

Getting involved

We want to bring the project to the industry, making sure to get as much input as possible to build an all-inclusive energy system.

  • The Advisory Group

    To help guide the work of the Open Networks Project, we have created a representative Advisory Group containing more than 40 experts from across the energy industry. The Open Networks Project uses the Advisory Group to help in the development of products from an early stage, but also to report back the progress of the project to the wider industry.

    We have representation from most sectors of the industry on the Advisory Group and feedback can be provided through them. Any material for the Advisory Group meetings, such as agendas and slide decks, is published two weeks in advance of the meetings to give members the opportunity to share and bring views from their part of the industry.

  • Public consultations

    Each year we identify high priority items based on your feedback and consult the whole industry for views on these developments. This feedback is incredibly important and we seek and welcome responses from across the industry, in whatever format and level of detail.

  • Public events

    We host a series of public events, webinars, panel events and roundtables throughout the year to complement our consultations or specific items of work, all of which help steer the development of Open Networks products and deliverables. These are listed on our Events page.

  • Flexibility in Great Britain

    More and more local energy generation is becoming flexible, which is a key driver for the energy networks to reach net zero by giving network operators the ability to control or schedule demand and/or generation depending on local network needs. Examples of Flexible Technology can include batteries, solar & storage, CHP, Electric Vehicles (EVs).

    As well as enabling the buying and selling of energy at specific times (also known as energy arbitrage), these Flexible Technologies can provide ‘Flexibility Services’ to Electricity Networks, to help solve congestion issues on the grid and release additional capacity, which in turn allows connection of more low carbon technologies such as renewables.

    To help Britain reach net zero and avoid bills rising for all customers, it’s important that it’s as easy as possible for those wishing to connect low carbon generation to the networks and offer flexibility services.

    Flexibility Figures

    Since 2018, DNOs have been tendering and procuring for various Flexibility Services to help solve congestion in the local electricity grids. Our consolidated flexibility figures demonstrate the scale and size of these local Flexibility Markets from DNOs in Great Britain, as well as the National Grid ESO Contracted Flexibility Figures. The November 2020 figures include the full set of data across all DNOs for more transparency.

    Further information on the active power services defined by Open Networks is available in our Active Power Services Implementation Plan. These figures are based on tendering activities and do not include a range of early market testing activity (e.g. Expressions of Interest’s) that DNOs are undertaking to better understand con flexibility in their areas ahead of RIIO ED2. For more information on the figures, our Flexibility Legend defines all the figures that are reported against all the services.

    We will continue to update these figures every 6 months to help customers understand the size of the market and make the process as transparent as possible across the whole country.

    Flexibility Timeline

    Flexibility services are playing a bigger and more important role in providing clean, reliable energy to Britain’s homes, businesses, and communities.

    On our Flexibility Timeline you can find a schedule of flexibility tenders across all of the GB DNOs for 2019. We have also included the links to each of the GB DNOs Flexibility Tenders pages, so you know how to get directly involved in these markets.

    Flexibility Commitment

    In December 2018, grid operators signed up to ENA’s Flexibility Commitment, an agreement that saw them help to boost the use of smart energy technologies to reduce the need for building new electricity grid infrastructure.

    In June 2019, the networks built on their original commitment and launched Our Six Steps for Delivering Flexibility Services to define how these markets will work in practice. Endorsed by the six Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), independent Distribution Network Operator GTC, it ensures that local markets are open and transparent for all to participate in, creating new opportunities for energy suppliers and aggregators to work with their customers to sell services to grid operators.

  • Flexible Connections

    Electricity networks are planned and designed on the basis of meeting the local peak demand or peak generation placed on them. This peak might only occur for a few hours on a handful of days a year. When a new customer (demand or generation) requests a connection to the network, companies assess whether the capacity requested will breach demand or generation limits at this peak time. If it does, then reinforcement of the network is required. Under the distribution connection charging methodology (which is approved by Ofgem), connecting customers are required to make a financial contribution to the cost of that reinforcement.

    On the back of successful trials, many companies are allowing new customers to connect to the network, without reinforcement, even where the capacity requested by that customer exceeds the peak network limits. Companies are allowing this, on the basis that the customer agrees to being constrained off when the network is reaching its capacity limits. This can reduce the cost of connecting to the network and also the time to connect, as works are not required. Flexible connections are sometimes referred to as non-firm connections, constrained connections or active network management schemes.

Project governance

The whole system challenges that we are looking to solve requires the right expertise. As the natural home for network collaboration, Open Networks draws on the expertise of each network company to lead this development work and has a significant number of representatives from each company developing and progressing all the necessary steps to build a grid that leaves nobody behind.

The project is overseen by the Steering Group, which informs and advises the Advisory Group, as well as drawing on expertise from our other committees. BEIS and Ofgem sit on the Steering Group.