NGESO delays low-carbon transition projects as expert staff are deployed back to control room

National Grid ESO has delayed several projects planned for the next few months as the Covid-19 crisis has required it to re-deploy expert staff to its control rooms.

In an update the system operator said it had a “finite pool of people who can take on control room roles.” It has set up parallel teams housed on site, changed shift patterns to ensure teams do not come into contact, and reduced staff inside the control room so it can maintain social distancing.

The SO has had to take a precautionary approach, saying “This is not a fixed crisis and we do not know how it will evolve”.

As well as losing expert staff who have returned to operation roles, more staff have been absent and the new product team has lost access to the control room to test and trial new products.

That affects new products such as ‘dynamic control’. NGESO said delivery will not happen in June and the project team will engage with industry on a revised timeline.

It also affects the SO’s forward planning work and the SO said its annual Future Energy Scenarios, a key scoping document, would be produced and presented to industry in a different form.

Meanwhile, lack of access to operational sites has slowed other programmes. Power Potential, a project in partnership with UK Power Networks that would test the use of distribution-connected assets to help maintain voltage stability, has been delayed. It requires visits to third party sites to commission the necessary resources and hook them into NGESO’s system. “UKPN can’t do that in lockdown,” the SO said. It is now hoping to do trials from September and complete them by April next year.

Similarly, a project to adjust settings on thousands of small plant so they ‘ride through’ grid disturbances has been delayed by lack of site access.

The SO said Project Terre, an operating reserve platform that would allow GB to access Europe-wide resources, and GB providers to offer reserve to neighbouring markets, would be delayed from June 2020. Earliest go-live is now the end of  October 2020. Industry members responding to the change raised concerns over whether GB would ever join the platform, noting that the go-live date was slipping towards a point at the end of the year when the UK will have left the EU.

The system operator promised to set new timelines in consultation with industry, saying “We recognise you are all making business decisions depending on where we are in the plan”.  And it noted that elsewhere, such as in dealing with lockdown operating conditions, “Lots of what we are learning, especially around low demand, will help secure the transition” to a low-carbon system.