Data and digitalisation are helping energy network companies support local, renewable electricity projects, by working with the different parts of our energy system.
So how are gas networks supporting local renewable electricity generation?
The amount of electricity that wind and solar farms generate varies from hour to hour, day to day and season to season, in accordance with the weather.
But for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, we need to ensure that not only the quantity of electricity fed into the grid matches the demand for it from our homes and businesses, but that that supply remains stable too.
Flexible power plants, which use natural gas today but, in the future, we think should use hydrogen or biomethane instead, play an important role in providing that stability by generating electricity for those times when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, by ramping production up and down as and when needed.
On the other hand, there are also times when the amount of electricity produced by wind and solar farms exceeds the amount that is needed by our homes and communities. For these times, ‘green’ hydrogen can be produced from that spare electricity for use by flexible power plants at a later date, providing an additional way for these wind and solar farms to make money, helping attract additional investment in building them in the first place.
So what does this mean for data and the running of the gas networks?
Demand for gas normally peaks at breakfast and teatime (i.e. before and after people go to work). But this is increasingly being replaced with less predictable demand, because of flexible power plants firing up to produce electricity when its required, during different times of the day.
Gas networks need to respond to that by ensuring that they plan and run the gas grid in a way that it delivers the gas needed to run those plants, which naturally depends on the weather; new technology and data is required to predict when these new flexible generators are expected to run.
The FlexGen innovation project uses data, including real time data, to create a new, innovative statistical model that will help gas networks to better understand and forecast the operation of these flexible generation loads. The model will be used in the control rooms of gas grid operators for ‘day ahead’ (i.e. the next day) and ‘within day’ (i.e. within the current day) forecasting of gas demand in their respective areas, enabling them to run the gas networks more efficiently.
By doing that, they’re supporting the role that flexible electricity generation plays in providing electricity grid stability – and so enabling the connection of greater amounts of variable, renewable electricity generation to local electricity grids. FlexGen will also enable the National Grid Electricity System Operator – which is responsible for ensuring that the GB-wide grid balances electricity production with demand – with better visibility and forecasting of electricity produced by flexible power plants at a local level.
If you want to read more, we’ve set out that work in a new document, ‘Introducing Britain’s Smart Gas Grid’, which you can find to the right of this page.
Notes to editor
Gas Goes Green #H2Explainers are a series of blogs setting all the key information you need to know about how Britain’s gas networks are working to deliver hydrogen to our homes, as part of our 'Tomorrow's Heat, Today's Opportunity' campaign. Check out the ENA Newsroom to find other articles and updates from both gas and electricity network companies.
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).