Digitalising the grid: our ambition for harnessing data and technology

National Grid ESO's Rob Rome and Nikki Jamieson outline the organisation's vision and next steps for the digitalisation of the electricity system as we move towards zero carbon operation.

We’re in the midst of an energy revolution. A range of factors can be said to be driving change in the energy industry, and chief amongst them are what we call the three Ds – decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation. 

The global focus on climate change rightly puts decarbonisation high up political and social agendas across the world, and decentralisation is an increasingly well-understood concept – even outside the energy sector – as the growth in community renewables and local schemes sees the locus of power generation and transmission move closer to consumers, towards regional models. 

But what do we mean when we talk about digitalisation? As the energy landscape evolves, the digitalisation of our electricity system is key to driving innovation and to capturing the benefits of our transition to zero carbon. 

Digital technology 

For National Grid ESO, this means harnessing digital technologies to enhance our operations, whether that’s in energy forecasting or for network planning. We’re already making strides in this area, with artificial intelligence supporting our control room activities, and projects such as our link-up with the Alan Turing Institute boosting our forecasting capability through machine learning. 

Digitalisation also means taking the increasingly complex ‘big data’ that underpins everything we do, and making it accessible in a way that will help industry’s transformation towards sustainability. We know that in our role as the system operator, we’re custodians of a lot of data on the electricity network, and that it’s our responsibility to collect, analyse and share it transparently and responsibly – allowing its value to be unlocked. 

Open data is very much the lifeblood of an efficient energy system and market, changing the way market participants interact with us and each other and enabling them to make informed choices. That’s why we’ve made commitments in both our RIIO-2 business plan and our forward plan to 2021 to put it at the heart of our strategy and vision for the next decade and beyond. 

We’ve already begun evolving our data-sharing platforms to meet the demands of today’s more data-intensive energy ecosystem. We’re in the early stages of this journey, and our first milestone is the development and rollout of a new pilot data portal to support our ambition to make our data easier to discover, understand and consume. 

Our new data portal 

Our new data portal is a centralised repository where our aim is for all our published data to be accessible in one place in a user-friendly format. On-screen visualisation and data manipulation tools are available – and we’ll be supporting data users in understanding the data through explanation and analysis where we can.  

View the new ESO data portal 

The portal went live in December and is initially being run in parallel to existing data sources to test its functionality. During this time we’ll be engaging with our stakeholders to understand the features and structure that works best for them. We’ll continue to develop the portal throughout 2020, and in the first year of the RIIO-2 period we’ll publish a schedule for sharing our data on the portal – providing a clear roadmap for what stakeholders can expect, and when. 

Making our data available in this way will drive industry collaboration and remove barriers to entry for new market participants, some of whom may be unfamiliar with the energy industry. And as access to more and better data – as well as automation and advanced analysis tools – improves, it’ll transform the grid for the twenty-first century, allowing us to operate a secure, zero-carbon electricity system at the least cost to consumers.