Future Energy Networks for Europe and its Consumers

Imperial College LondonResearchers: Professor Richard Green, Dr Ritsuko Ozaki

Many of our likely future energy sources are a long way from most consumers, and energy networks will have to transport large amounts of power over greater distances than in the past. Building and operating the network over “the last mile” to the consumer will also become more demanding, as loads are required to respond to fluctuating supplies from distributed generation and intermittent renewables.

EPSRC has funded the “Top and Tail” consortium to investigate the Grand Challenge of integrating these very long distance and very local energy networks.  Led by Imperial College, it involves engineers and social scientists from eight universities.

Richard Green (together with Nicholas Jenkins from Cardiff and Danny Pudjianto from the Imperial College Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) will be researching future scenarios for Europe’s energy supplies in 2050, when solar power from the Sahara might be combined with wind power from the North Sea and Scandinavian hydroelectricity.  Long-distance trade may be technically feasible, but how strong is the business case?  How much infrastructure will be required, and how would it be funded?  What market designs are likely to prove adequate to the task of coordinating trans-continental energy flows and ensuring that socially useful investments are economically viable? The roles and remuneration of interconnectors and of energy storage will be crucial in the future, and novel economic instruments will, if necessary, be designed to reward them.

Ritsuko Ozaki (together with Rob Gross from the Centre for Environmental Policy) will be looking into user acceptability of voltage quality relaxation. Not only have changes in consumer electronics yet to impact network design, there are also radical changes in future heat and transport services that need to be met. Remedying this physically (digging up the roads and laying new cables) could be expensive and disruptive. Still, a large number of amount of additional capacity could be released from legacy cables if we take a different approach to power quality and voltage regulation. But do users have any comprehension of voltage quality? Does it matter to them if voltage quality is lower than now? What policy instruments and incentives might be helpful? It is crucial to understand how users perceive a new offering and why they accept/reject it and to explore what matters to them in terms of impacts on their everyday practices.