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The 3Ds: What this means for the future of energy

As the UK increasingly moves towards decarbonising the grid, a number of new challenges will need to be overcome.

National Grid ESO has stated their belief that the grid will be ready to operate at 100% renewable power, at least for periods, but acknowledge that a fundamental change in the way it currently operates will be needed to achieve this. Increasingly, the ‘3Ds’ of decarbonisation, digitisation and decentralisation are both reshaping the way our energy systems work and driving forward the wider, global energy transition at a much faster rate than was previously expected.

A July 2019 report by Ernst & Young (EY) indicated that continued introduction of cleaner, more efficient and more affordable energy technologies mean that expected tipping points for a green energy grid could come up to two years earlier than forecast.

Hailed by the EY study as delivering projects in shorter timeframes, with bigger potential for innovation and increasingly attracting new types of investors and resulting in a ‘snowball effect’ of growing adoption, the ‘3Ds’ in more detail are:

Decarbonisation 

Widely covered in recent months, a fundamental shift not just in the energy sector but industry-wide towards a focus on decarbonisation rather than economic performance is shaping innovation, government policy and stakeholder action. EY Global Energy Leader Benoit Laclau described the change as a ‘revolution in the power sector’, ushering in a new energy system and transforming our world into one where cleanly generated electricity powers almost every aspect of our lives.

Decentralisation

Our reliance on a handful of large generation plants is decreasing rapidly in favour of more dispersed generation from a large number of smaller generators. In addition to this, embedded generation from both individual businesses and homes adds to this mix. While they offer a growing supply of clean energy, this complex system presents a massive challenge for an increasingly archaic grid not designed with decentralised generation in mind. The Carbon Trust has called decentralised energy a solution that will reduce prices, improve energy security and reduce emissions, but warned that it still faces challenges due to organisations not yet widely understanding the role they can play in developing and implementing projects.

Digitisation

Implementing these complex changes requires effective management and monitoring, something that is increasingly achievable as new technologies are introduced across generation, transmission and distribution.

Demand-side response, battery storage and energy efficiency technology all present opportunities to better balance supply and demand and support the green revolution. However, all require complex monitoring and data capture to reach their full potential. The IEA has called digitisation the solution to delivering energy at the right time, in the right place and at the lowest cost, but warned that to do so, policymakers and business executives alike will face new, complex decisions, resulting in some long-lived physical infrastructure and assets becoming obsolete as new business models emerge.

A fourth ‘D’

Research by the University of Exeter Energy Policy Group went one step further, adding a fourth ‘D’, ‘democratisation’, referring to how both people and businesses are more engaged with the energy system than ever before, both through pressure to decarbonise and a growing ability to make a direct contribution via on-site generation or DSR.

However, the National Grid and Distribution Network Operators might offer an alternative fourth ‘D’, which is ‘Don’t Fail!’ – The blackout that affected a million people on the 9th August this year shows that the public has high expectations of a very reliable electricity supply and will not tolerate any errors during the electricity market reforms.

Collectively, the research summarised it as a collective shift towards a ‘flex and respond’ approach, moving away from the older concept of ‘predict and provide’, offering a path to smart, flexible energy systems that meet the changing ways that we both generate and consume energy.

To find out more about how the ‘3Ds’ can help to shape your own energy strategy and deliver reduced costs and carbon emissions, talk to our team at enquiries@inenco.com.