Six key steps to unlock a digitised net-zero energy system

A combination of Government policy and regulation, together with interoperability, governance, security, carbon monitoring and a embedded culture are the six key pillars for the UK to deliver a digitised net-zero energy system.

These are the top-level recommendations in a report published today by the Energy Digitisation Taskforce – set up by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Ofgem and Innovate UK to deliver a set of actionable recommendations that challenge the status quo and help deliver the digitalised energy system needed to reach Net Zero.

The key objectives of the taskforce were to:

  • Refocus the energy sector on the challenge and opportunities of Digitalisation as a core component of transformation, not just an enabler
  • Accelerate digitalisation of the energy system, enabling Net Zero compatible business models, markets, and industry structures
  • Draw on experience from other sectors and provide a focal point to ensure digitalisation efforts are coordinated and effective
  • Identify digitalisation gaps that require innovation support
  • Identify the governance risks that digitalisation raises and present frameworks to mitigate issues

Welcoming the report Energy and Clean Growth Minister Greg Hands, MP says: “Our success in achieving net zero will require harnessing energy from low-carbon sources to power our homes, businesses, and vehicles.

“To achieve this, millions of installations — including solar panels, battery storage, heat pumps and electric vehicles
— will need to be seamlessly integrated onto our electricity networks.

“This move to a more decentralised energy system will create more complex energy flows, which will rely on the digitalised exchange of data to be managed effectively in, real-time.

“This digitalised data exchange facilitates an energy system which can accelerate, automate, plan, and anticipate processes far better than at present.”

“Without digitalisation, the system will not be able to manage the growing complexities of a decarbonised system“

Laura Sandys, chair of the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce and non-executive director at Energy Systems Catapult

Crucial to this transformation will be the customer; building their trust, giving them control and significantly minimising the complexity of the future system, says the Taskforce

In making its recommendations, the Taskforce – run by Energy Systems Catapult and chaired by Laura Sandys CBE – focused on four key areas: bringing value to consumers; accelerating decarbonisation; maintaining a stable, secure and resilient system; and optimising whole system investment and operation.

The recommendations have been carefully designed to deliver only the most limited intervention, in anticipation of the sector and new actors layering solutions on top.

Among the key actions in the Taskforce’s recommendations are:

  • developing a customer consent dashboard to help consumers understand who has access to their energy data, and why – building trust and consumer protection;
  • mandating smart energy assets to unlock flexibility by making sure consumer devices have a minimum level of smart functionality and connectivity;
  • creating a digital spine for the energy system to enable plug and play options, encouraging whole system interoperability and standardised data sharing;
  • mandating carbon data monitoring to improve visibility and understanding around carbon impacts, and help drive future policymaking and consumer actions;
  • establishing a digital delivery body to develop core public interest assets quickly and independently from vested interests.

Laura Sandys, chair of the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce and non-executive director at Energy Systems Catapult, said: ““Digitalisation is no longer a nice to have – it’s essential in decarbonising Britain’s energy system, and will need deeply embedding into our energy system if we’re to meet our ambitious and legally-binding Net Zero targets.

“Without digitalisation, the system will not be able to manage the growing complexities of a decarbonised system.“

The Taskforce’s recommendations aim to accelerate the journey to a digitalised, flexible and affordable energy system, and will unlock new business models, change existing functions and should deliver customers a new experience of energy.

“While many other industries are ahead in embedding digitalisation, the energy sector now has an opportunity to build on best practice and innovate with reduced risk and uncertainty. It’s critical we capture these opportunities to unlock the opportunities and innovation that digitalisation can offer – as we have seen in other sectors.”

Indro Mukerjee, chief executive officer of Innovate UK, said: “The Taskforce presents a compelling vision of an energy system transformed by digitalisation. It advances our thinking in how to evolve the energy system to accelerate the move to net zero. Innovation is key to this, and we at Innovate UK look forward to continuing our strong partnership with BEIS and Ofgem to help shape the future energy economy.”

The Energy Digitalisation Taskforce was launched in May 2021 to continue the government’s focus on modernising the energy system to unlock flexibility and drive clean growth towards Britain’s 2050 Net Zero target.

It follows on from the Energy Data Taskforce – also led by Laura Sandys and Energy Systems Catapult – which in 2019 made five recommendations to lay the foundations for a digitalised energy system. These recommendations were all adopted by Ofgem and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and progress opening up data is encouraging.

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