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14 December 2020

Urgent engineering standards upgrade is required to make electricity supply fit for the future

An independent report for government has warned that if Great Britain does not update its electricity engineering standards, then it will be significantly more difficult for the country to achieve its net zero targets and much more expensive for customers.

The Electricity Engineering Standards Review was commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial strategy and Ofgem to understand whether current standards will continue to provide customers with value in a market being changed fast by decarbonisation, digitalisation and the rise of local energy solutions.

Developed by a panel of energy experts1 chaired by Dr Simon Harrison of Mott MacDonald, the report warned that without change:

  • Customers would pay more for the services electricity provides to them, a problem that would be exacerbated by more of their energy being supplied electrically, instead of through natural gas, oil, petrol or diesel.
  • Poor interoperability may make customers less willing to make smart technology choices, leading again to higher costs and loss of opportunity for new and innovative services
  • Climate change, changing system characteristics, and other changing risks will increase the threat of supply interruptions and make the supply system less able to recover, at the same time as customers are becoming more reliant on electricity for digital connectivity, mobility, comfort and other life-critical services.
  • The electricity system would be less accessible to new, innovative, organisations, increasing costs, and reducing the opportunity for the UK to show leadership and develop export potential for products and services.

The panel’s work identified a number of relatively straightforward adjustments to existing arrangements that can be put in place quickly and start to deliver benefits. Recommendations suggested will avoid one-off costs of £5-10bn and recurring cost of £2-6bn per annum on the expanded electricity system ended for net zero, if implemented along with other necessary changes to policy, markets and regulation.

In addition, the panel has begun shaping a more customer-first framework for standards and their governance that will be necessary to underpin the shift to a decarbonised, data driven, and customer centric system for the future. The delivery of that framework will take time and needs to start at pace straight away, if it is to realise value as the system starts to experience large increases in demand, expected from the late 2020s onwards.

Commenting on the report, Dr Simon Harrison said: “It has been a privilege to chair this Panel of some of the industry’s leading experts in this once in a generation opportunity to make engineering standards fit for the future. We have made some important recommendations that will underpin customer value, experience and choice. However, engineering standards are only part of the transformational change needed for net zero, and our report needs to be considered alongside changes to every aspect of electricity and energy system policy, governance, regulation, markets, supply chains and skills. There are also balances to be struck between how standards or their absence enable markets to evolve and encourage innovation.”

Download the report here.

Ends

  1. The panel includes Faye Banks (Independent Consultant), Simon Harrison (Mott MacDonald) – Chair, Mike Kay (Independent Consultant), Furong Li (University of Bath), Graham Oakes (Independent Consultant), Robin MacLaren (Independent Consultant), Filomena la Porta (EdF), Goran Strbac (Imperial College, London).
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