13 Feb 2023
Wendel Hortop

Balancing Programme Update: What’s hot and what’s not?

We attended the Balancing Programme update meeting held by National Grid ESO on Thursday 9th February. Here, we share with you our key takeaways from the event.

Matt with the headlines - full details below!

What is the Balancing Programme?

  • The Balancing Programme is a wide-ranging plan to hit targets on the way to net-zero operability of the grid in 2025. It was created in April 2022 and is likely to run through to this being achieved. You can find the full Balancing Programme roadmap here.
  • What’s the purpose of it? To improve the balancing capability of the control room, primarily through the Balancing Mechanism.
  • What else will it do? Improve existing systems, develop future systems, enhance capabilities and, as a result, deliver significant benefits to both the environment and consumers through a reliable and secure energy system.

What’s the biggest news?

New technology is on the way, and we’ve seen it in action!

  • The Open Balancing Platform: National Grid ESO completed the basic ‘core’ development work on the platform in September 2022. The work being done now is to implement new functionality before the platform launches within the control room.
  • The launch is now scheduled for December 2023. This is later than the previous suggestions of September 2023, and it could even end up being pushed back into early next year if there are any delays in development.
  • The launch will bring new functionality, including the bulk dispatch capability. This is an algorithm that will create a combination of bids and offers to meet a required total response at minimum cost.
  • Very excitingly, National Grid ESO demoed this functionality at the Balancing Programme event! It will introduce the first iteration of this for zonal balancing with smaller Balancing Mechanism-registered units only. Assets (and possibly actions) less than 50MW in size are expected to benefit from the new functionality.
  • Over time, National Grid ESO will expand the functionality to cover larger assets and national balancing actions too, but it hasn’t confirmed the timetable for this yet.
  • National Grid ESO is releasing a ‘sandbox' testing environment in the spring to allow participants to play around with and test the systems. We’ll let you know when we hear more about this.

Get involved in how energy storage is treated in the Balancing Mechanism!

  • An energy storage stakeholder working group launched in October to look at key barriers/opportunities for energy storage within the Balancing Programme.
  • The next session is in March - reach out to to get involved.
  • One key thing this working group is looking at is the state of charge of energy storage (or ‘state of energy’ if you're NGESO). In particular, what is the best way for this to be communicated to the control room? And what are the consequences from the current methodology of using MEL/MIL? If you can’t remember your MEL from your MIL, check out this article on availability to find out more.
  • The new platform will automate elements of this. For example, battery storage dispatches should currently be limited to 15-minute duration and this is done entirely manually. Longer dispatches can sometimes leak through which can’t always be provided for.
  • The progress so far from the working group? They have clarified assumptions made in control room (15-minute duration dispatches) and suggested potential grid code changes. Expect to see more in this space soon.

So that’s the big news... what else did National Grid ESO share?

Everybody still wants to talk skip rates

  • Skip rates were a big topic of conversation *again* - but there’s no real progress here so far.

A new service for non-Balancing Mechanism-registered units is on the way

  • National Grid ESO and UK Power Networks are launching the MW dispatch service, initially in the South-East of the UK. The aim of the service is to help manage thermal voltage constraints on the grid and it’s a turn-down service with utilization payments and no availability fees.

Demand forecasting is already hard and only getting harder

  • Forecasting demand is getting harder and harder for National Grid ESO as the amount of ‘embedded’ generation (i.e. stuff hidden in the distribution networks) increases. The latest projections expect that the measure of demand on the transmission network (INDO) will drop significantly, while actual gross demand remains reasonably flat.

Goodbye faxes

  • National Grid ESO still communicates by fax for lots of things - including critical availability updates from power plants. But BT will retire faxes from 2025, so the clock is ticking.
We’d almost forgotten that faxes exist.
In fact, some of the people at Modo have never seen a fax machine before!

Final thoughts

  • The excellent news is that the feeling in the room was one of progress! People can see the tangible things that have been delivered, either in legacy systems or new technology.
  • Skip rates are still a big issue, and it still feels like everyone involved is speaking a slightly different language. National Grid ESO has committed to working on agreeing clearer wording. Definitions here are being taken away, which may make things clearer.
  • There is an opportunity for those working in battery storage to have an input into what the future looks like for energy storage in the BM; it is definitely worth engaging if you have ideas.

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