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The shock to the system – why Electricity needs a System Architect

Great Britain’s electricity networks are entering a period of unprecedented change due to new forms of generation and radical changes to the way people use and store energy. The IET is helping to create a joint vision for tackling these challenges.

The nation's energy infrastructure was designed on the basis that the demand for electricity was largely predictable, and that supply was controllable to meet this demand as it came from a small number of large power stations.

In the future, this will no longer be the case. Renewable generation may be local and work when the wind blows or the sun shines. Increased demand for electric vehicles, electric heat pumps and other new uses for electricity will change future patterns of consumer demand.  Smart meters, smart communities and increased home generation of electricity will enable consumers to engage much more actively with the electricity system.  All these changes will bring greater complexity to the operation of the power networks.

There is currently no one body or agency to manage this fast-growing complexity and to ensure that the whole system works effectively from end to end. The IET is calling for a new System Architect role to be established that will ensure engineering co-ordination in this period of change.

Our report: “Electricity Networks – Handling a Shock to the System”, outlines the challenges the network faces. Further detailed work is in hand to explore how a System Architect could address those challenges within a liberalised market.

Other industries including aviation and mobile telecommunications already use a System Architect approach.

The sooner the electricity System Architect starts work, the less severe the problems will be, and the wider the options for managing them. At best, failure to act could cause inefficient investment in short term solutions, make government policy objectives more difficult to achieve, and cause widespread public frustration. At worst, it could ultimately threaten the security of the whole power system.

The benefits of acting are clear: more co-ordinated technical oversight of our electricity networks would shape the national electricity network to be truly fit for the future.

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