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Why collaboration is key to remaining resilient in our electric future

16 July 2020, By Owen Wilkes

Why collaboration is key to remaining resilient in our electric futureNational Grid Electricity Transmission prides itself on providing services safely and reliably, whilst remaining resilient to external factors that could disrupt business activities. As the UK energy landscape changes – with greater cross–sector interdependence and evolving user expectations, how will we ensure that our electricity infrastructure remains resilient in the future?  By working collaboratively across businesses, the electricity sector, and other sectors to define, measure, and address resilience.


Our infrastructure transports high voltage electricity across England and Wales, from where generation to end-user, via local electricity network companies to homes and businesses. This commodity has become essential in supporting our modern day-to-day lives, with many sectors identifying electrification as a means to achieving their decarbonisation objectives. The energy sector must continue to evolve in response to decarbonisation agendas and the technology advances that can realise them.


Our transmission network is integral to the supply of electricity in the UK and its reliability is a result of rigorous design, engineering, and asset management standards, along with strong electricity sector collaboration. The result: today’s UK electricity consumers are rarely without electricity for periods longer than a few hours. However, the growing expectations across business and society for uninterrupted electricity supply mean that networks must also be resilient to high impact, low probability events. 


A reliable electricity network does not automatically make it resilient; our network is reliable because we have robust plans to manage day-to-day operations within expected circumstances, but it is also resilient because we have plans to manage less frequent, but potentially higher impact events. National Grid Electricity Transmission actively plans to prevent, withstand, mitigate, respond and adapt to the impact and/or duration of such events. However, today’s electricity resilience planning must evolve with the needs of its users.


Technological developments have progressed our use of electricity from lighting and cooking, to convenience and entertainment (e.g. washing machines, televisions), and more recently, to enable modern communications (broadband routers, mobile devices, and the networks they depend upon) to continuously operate. With each broader exploitation, expectations of electricity availability increase.


Industry analysis, such as the recent “Future Resilience of the UK Electricity System” report1 from the Energy Research Partnership (ERP), suggests that electricity dependency is likely to increase further in the coming decade. This collaborative project brought together stakeholders from across the energy sector to develop a common view on future electricity system2 resilience management. Amongst its findings, the report established: 


  • A greater future reliance on electricity – the use case of electricity will continue to evolve, including its likely application to decarbonise other sectors (e.g. transport and heat sectors), increasing future electricity dependence. From a resilience perspective, this means that for an event that disrupts power today, the impact could be higher tomorrow. 


  • Understanding future resilience expectations of business and society - the electricity industry can appear complex, making it challenging for end users to understand their future electricity resilience needs without a prerequisite understanding of how the industry works and how supply interruption could impact them. Such understanding may ensure that future resilience actions posed by industry meet the expectations of business and society. 


  • Increased and more complex cross-sector interdependencies – with further technology reliance to manage networks and systems, interdependencies between sectors will increase, with most sectors having some dependency on communications and/or electricity. Infrastructure resilience for critical services could require cross-sector assessment for its future assurance, and therefore establishing appropriate cross-sector resilience measures is recommended to support this.


So how will we ensure our electricity infrastructure is resilient in the future?  


The findings of the ERP report mean that we must answer this question from two perspectives: across the electricity sector, and across the interdependent sectors that impact on national infrastructure resilience. 


The ERP resilience collaboration has focussed electricity sector direction, with activities of other industry groups (e.g. CIGRE Working Group C4.47 on Power System Resilience3)  aligning to indicate positive collective momentum for a fresh look at future electricity sector resilience. New resilience efforts must therefore leverage collective work and knowledge to move the discussion forward on future energy sector resilience collaboratively.


Resilience is, however, a subject that is much broader than the electricity sector. As cross-sector dependencies continue to increase, electricity is becoming a progressively more important element of national infrastructure resilience. Cross-sector collaboration will be essential, and needs to be well coordinated to assure resilience at this level. The National Infrastructure Commission’s resilience study4 is an important first step in resilience focus across UK sectors. 


Whether it is across businesses, one sector or multiple sectors, proactive development of measures, metrics, and/or a collective framework for assessment and mitigation will be key step to future resilience assurance. This should recognise the excellent work that infrastructure providers, networks, and utilities deliver today in managing resilience, but should also plan for paradigm shifts across sectors in planning for a resilient future. This ambition can only be realised through new levels of cooperation between organisations and sectors that can impact, or be impacted by, future resilience measures -  three coordinated tiers of activity are therefore proposed:  


1. Resilience principles, measures, or metrics that can be applied across sectors interchangeably – being able to account for cross-sector dependencies and assure overall infrastructure resilience through consistent application of resilience principles across sectors. These would need to be sufficiently high-level to apply to all concerned sectors, but with sufficient description such that they can be interpreted by discrete sectors. Flexibility would also be required to account for future resilience threats (that are unknown today) as they emerge. Collective agreement of a resilience definition, measures, metrics and/or principles would be needed across sectors and respective regulators. 


2. Sector-specific interpretation of resilience principles, measures, or metrics to provide future resilience assessment and mitigation actions. Within the electricity sector, our ongoing resilience work and collective knowledge will aide this and will allow the sector to contribute to development of appropriate cross-sector measures and actions. Sector-specific measures would require recognition by the appropriate regulatory frameworks to support resilience action in the interest of bill payers.    


3. Individual businesses could interpret, utilising subject matter experts, the sector-specific measures and apply them to their business planning activities. These business plans would require recognition from the appropriate regulatory or market authorities. 


National Grid Electricity Transmission plans to develop future resilience measures in conjunction with interested collaborators, whilst developing the outlined three-tier approach. This will aim to ensure our future networks are resilient to anticipated landmark industry changes. This challenge is greater than any one business or sector - so if we wish to ensure that our electricity infrastructure is resilient for the future, continued collaboration is critical.  




2Electricity System -  the assets, businesses, services and supply chain that facilitate the transport of electricity from the point of generation to the point of consumption, and the political, societal, economic and technological environment in which they operate


3CIGRE Working Group C4.47 - Power System Resilience – currently addressing areas pertinent to this discussion, such as; resilience definitions, methods and metrics, and regulatory frameworks to support investment decisions.



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