When did you join National Grid ESO?
I joined the business and the Quantitative Analysis team as an analyst in 2017. Not long after joining the opportunity came up to manage the team.
I love what I do because the analysis is so varied, we work closely with the control room and with the rest of the ESO’s Markets department, giving us an interesting mix of what is happening on the system in real time but also be involved in planning for in our long-term strategy.
What was your background before you joined ESO?
I completed a PhD in Nuclear Physics and went to work for a contractor in the defence industry. Defence is wide ranging, but I particularly enjoyed the energy side of things.
When I saw the opportunity to work for ESO I thought it linked much more to my interests and applied.
Although I don’t directly work on nuclear now, I still have an interest in it. My PhD was on the next generation of nuclear reactors and the future energy mix. I still believe that nuclear plays a part as we move towards net zero, but in a different manner.
Can you tell us about your role?
I manage a team of talented mathematicians, physicists and data analysts.
Among various other analytical projects, we provide modelling and tools to make sure the that the control room hold sufficient response and reserve services on the electricity system.
This means that in the event of a sudden generation or demand loss, frequency is controlled and maintained within our license obligations and we have sufficient ‘back up’ margin to restore the lost energy. Response is the faster acting service and is triggered automatically in an event.
We define the reserve volumes by statistical analysis of historical and future demand, solar and wind forecasts and generator reliability. Based on the outputs of our analysis, we recommend volumes of reserve for the control room to hold at any time. For example, we need x amount of positive and negative reserve at this time of day to safely operate with a comfortable margin.
High or volatile winds can affect reserve and response requirements. For example, if there is a large storm forecasted, then we may advise the control room to increase response levels to reduce the probability of higher frequency volatility or to increase reserve to account for higher probability of wind-cut.
Do you have to plan a lot for future energy system operation?
Yes, a lot of my work is on future planning.
As we move from transmission connected to distributed power sources, we need to upgrade our reserve and response services. New Interconnectors connecting also bring operational challenges and we constantly review and update our tools and models to account for this.
Over the summer we supported the Dynamic Containment launch. My team have been working on the product design and setting the requirements for over three years, so it’s great to see the service go live on the system successfully.
We’re planning on evolving our statistical analysis to rely more on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
We have consulted with the ESO labs team on this as well as external specialists via an innovation project.
The idea is that AI could help make requirements more refined and bespoke for current system conditions. At the moment we rely on human statistical analysis from historical and future forecasts. AI will help to make things more dynamic in real time and crunch through large amounts of data more efficiently.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you?
We saw a huge drop in system demand over the summer period which was incredibly challenging. Our models and tools were tested to their extremes so as soon as we heard the news lockdown was inevitable, we put extra measures and robust testing in place to make sure we would still be giving reliable outputs in such unprecedented times.
In May we launched ODFM. This was a huge team effort and we had to do a lot of work assessing the downward margin requirements and helping to implement this service within very tight timescales.
It was also challenging to work on such large and complex project from home. When the nurseries closed, I was also faced with the challenge of an energic toddler learning to walk. It’s wasn’t easy working to balance the grid and at the same time stop your house from being destroyed!
Daily stand ups became really important when lockdown began, as did MS Teams. We attended a daily 60-minute video call with many different parts of the ESO to focus on short term operability needs. This was an effective way to draw on expertise from teams across the ESO and come up with a plan for what we needed to do in the short term to manage the COVID impact on the grid.
Personally, I’ve had to cancel our planned holidays this year and many of my friends and family’s weddings have had to be postponed so along with the rest of the country, we haven’t been able to see friends and family as much as we would like to.
When everything goes back to normal, I plan to work from home more frequently. I think we have adapted well and found new ways of working effectively from different locations.