Why the entire energy system must buy into digitalisation for net-zero: National Grid ESO writes to ICON

Image: National Grid ESO

To deliver on Great Britain’s net-zero ambitions, we need to learn from one another, Carolina Tortora from National Grid ESO tells ICON readers in this thought piece. 


Since the beginning of the decade the UK has seen a rapid digital transformation, driven in part by the challenge of the pandemic, which has fundamentally changed how many sectors operate.

When it comes to energy, all eyes are now fixed on reaching net zero by 2050, with digitalisation at the heart of the solution. The journey has already begun and numerous emerging digital tools will be critical to supporting our smart, flexible future energy system.

As more renewable assets are added to the grid, we’ll need to transition from power systems that use hundreds of large generators to millions of devices that will all need to interact. Digital tools will be critical to ensuring that we can predict, anticipate and manage the British energy system, ensuring that we continue to supply the nation with reliable and sustainable energy.


A call for cross-industry action

At the start of the year, the Energy Digitalisation Taskforce (EDiT) – a Government commissioned group focused on modernising the energy system – published a report emphasising the clear need for a digitalised and decarbonised energy system.

The report’s key recommendation included delivering interoperability to create a digital framework for the energy system, adopting digital security methods, and embedding a digitalisation culture.

A joint response to this report from BEIS, Ofgem and Innovate UK found that while progress had been made towards these goals, more work was needed “to make an effective, secure, digitalised energy system a reality.”

The response recognised that “innovation is central to the Taskforce’s report and will remain key to enabling the transition to a smart, flexible, and decarbonised energy system at the lowest cost.”


Enter Virtual Energy System

National Grid ESO’s Virtual Energy System, an industry-wide project to digitalise Great Britain’s Energy system, is a perfect example of the potential benefits of digitalisation within the energy sector.

Since the project launched in 2021, National Grid ESO has been working with partners across the industry to test the requirements to deliver a system for data sharing between industry partners and, ultimately, consumers.

By creating a common data architecture to support interoperability, the Virtual Energy System will be able to bring together existing and new digital twins from around the industry to create a shared tool that will improve simulation and forecasting abilities across the energy system to drive progress towards national decarbonisation targets.

Which has the potential to lower the cost of energy provision, accelerate the introduction of renewable power and simplify the operation of the British power system.


A digitalisation culture

This approach ties back to the Taskforce’s recommendation to embed a digitalisation culture to achieve whole system optimisation. The Virtual Energy System’s insights and intelligence will support new market opportunities, business models and the acceleration of digital innovation within the energy sector – guiding energy investment and management at a national scale.

The value of this project is in collaboration with industry. It can only succeed with the industry coming together to share data in pursuit of a digitalised, decarbonised future energy system.

In addition to being used by industry and, in the longer term, consumers, it is anticipated that the Virtual Energy System will also offer widespread benefits to government departments, regulators, academics and think tanks. This will help inform the strategies, policies and regulatory decisions needed to advance the net-zero transition.

A project on the scale of the Virtual Energy System is a world first – and one that will take time to get right. But tools like these will be essential to successfully modernising the British energy system. Digitalisation and decarbonisation delivered hand in hand.

To deliver on Great Britain’s net-zero ambitions, we need to learn from one another. By sharing knowledge and ideas through projects like the Virtual Energy System, we will accelerate the development of critical solutions and innovations – paving the way for a more sustainable future.

Carolina Tortora is Head of Digital Transformation and Innovation Strategy at National Grid ESO. 

Carolina Tortora (Image: National Grid ESO)