As the U.K. marches toward a net zero future by 2050, it is increasingly apparent that new methods of analysing and evaluating power systems will be needed. A range of power systems technologies are emerging that will impact everything from heating residential and commercial spaces with hydrogen to electrification of the vehicle fleets as well as shipping and aviation.

Of course, greater electrification of transit and other crucial elements of the U.K. economy is taken as a given for achieving carbon goals. But what will be the socio-economic costs? From an engineering and policy standpoint, are we truly gaining a picture of the total systems cost of this transition to high utilisation of hydrogen and massive electrification?

The U.K. has established a position as a leader among G-7 nations in committing to cut carbon emissions by 100% from 1990 levels by 2050. However, this will require unprecedented coordination across interconnected energy vectors. One example is the direction of electrification vs. hydrogen — in other words, how development of each energy source will impact the other. The analysis must assess the total all-in cost of hydrogen to account for production, storage and transport. Meanwhile, an analysis of high electrification scenarios will likely show that they are quite a bit more expensive when all-in costs of network reinforcement are factored in. With this whole systems analysis of each vector, will high electrification be truly more expensive, when considering the total levelised cost of hydrogen?

These scenarios make it clear that a whole systems approach to evaluating policy for future energy and power systems is the most effective way to evaluate all these different vectors. Getting the full picture is crucial. The various components of an energy system must be accounted for, including generation, transmission, distribution and consumption, while considering multiple energy sources, such as fossil fuels, renewable energy sources and energy storage.

Strong Partnerships Needed

In the U.K., Ofgem is in the process of defining a Future System Operator for all aspects of the power delivery system. That operator will be tasked with developing a whole systems, holistic approach to energy strategy and policy.

All components of the U.K. power market will continue to deal with risks arising from types and locations of future generation. It is a given that greater electrification in heating and transportation will create a substantial need for new generation capacity that is flexible and better able to match supply with demand. These new generation sources will include a greater share of renewables — solar, wind and hydro — as well as grid-scale energy storage.

Key Advantages

The complex challenges facing energy systems in the coming transformational stages make it imperative that a whole systems approach be utilised for power system planning. Among advantages of this approach:

  • Holistic perspective considering the entire energy ecosystem.
  • Energy diversity accounting for all sources from renewables, fossil fuels, nuclear and emerging technologies.
  • Resource utilisation with a goal of optimizing available resources, minimising waste and increasing efficiency.
  • Resilience focusing on interdependencies to make systems less prone to disruptions or other emergencies.
  • Carbon reduction as the transition to low-carbon and zero-carbon energy sources progresses.
  • Cost efficiency from optimised use of resources.
  • Energy security resulting from a diversified energy mix.
  • Reduced environmental impact due to broad consideration of land use and resource conservation when considering factors like emissions reduction.
  • Energy storage through grid-scale battery installations that support grid stability as renewables gain share.
  • Technological innovation leading to breakthroughs in energy production distribution and consumption.

The whole systems planning approach also will fast track grid modernization efforts, making the grid more responsive and reliable as load conditions grow more dynamic. This approach is ideal for considering the needs and preferences of end users.

This adaptable and responsive grid will serve as the basis to align energy planning with broad policy objectives, such as sustainability, environmental protection and economic growth. Demand-side management and demand response programs also can be better implemented.

The approach will promote electrification of other sectors such as transport and heating, leading to a more sustainable and interconnected energy ecosystem. We may even see the day when fleets of EVs can serve as energy storage resources, able to feed power back onto the grid during times of peak demand. Moreover, this approach will foster research and innovation, more targeted infrastructure investments, and greater collaboration and stakeholder engagement.

A New Era

Although the power grid has long been an energy ecosystem of interdependencies connecting resources, delivery channels and consumer demand, the new era of energy production, distribution and consumption makes it necessary for planning and policies to maintain the broadest view possible.

While pursuing the vital goal of lower carbon emissions in the decades to come, affordable and reliable energy must not be sacrificed. Optimising energy vectors will involve collaboration among all stakeholders — including government, industry, academia, and consumers — to develop and implement comprehensive energy solutions.


System planning is an essential element of grid optimisation within the U.K. and around the globe.

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Craig McGlone is a senior transmission planning consultant for 1898 & Co., a part of Burns & McDonnell. Craig is experienced in the design and modelling of power systems up to and including 400-kV. He has extensive knowledge in wind and solar generation facilities as well as the integration of those systems on the grid along with power system stability and modelling.