Introducing the Virtual Energy System

We’re launching an industry-wide programme to develop the Virtual Energy System – a digital twin of Great Britain’s entire energy system.

The energy industry has made impressive strides along the path to net-zero, while undergoing the transition to digitisation. Our next, shared step can be to capitalise on the potential of a more dynamic, joined-up and intelligent view of our entire energy system.

Great Britain’s energy system is experiencing two fundamental transitions in parallel.

First, the shift to net zero – something we’ve already made significant strides in. The decarbonisation of our sector is well underway, as is the planning for the changing demands on the sector as other industries also undergo this change in their own efforts to reach net zero. 

And second, digitisation. New technology and the prevalence of real-time data have already transformed many aspects of the energy industry, and there are a multitude of commercial projects that bring to life the concept of digital twins of specific IT systems.

An opportunity to come together

We now have an opportunity ahead of us; to bring these parallel transitions together to create something incalculably more powerful, that has the potential to help us take even greater strides towards net zero.

This is why we’re launching an industry-wide programme to develop the Virtual Energy System – a digital twin of Great Britain’s entire energy system.

We recognise it’s an ambitious goal.

But we also recognise that it could be a central tool, bringing together every individual element of our system to create a collective view which will give us more dynamic intelligence around all aspects of the energy industry.

The Virtual Energy System will also provide us all with a virtual environment to test, model and make more accurate forecasts – supporting commercial decision-making, while enabling us to understand the consumer impact of changes before we make them.

This ambition is not out of reach - many elements of the energy industry are already using individual digital twins. The next step on this journey is to work together to find a way to take these digital twins forward, in unison. A way in which we can connect these assets and encourage future development across the entire energy spectrum.

A tool created by our industry, for everyone

The key to the Virtual Energy System will be collaboration - this won’t be the ESO’s tool, but a tool available to our entire industry - a tool that we will all be able to tap into and derive learnings from, that will support future innovation and problem solving.

But we need to start somewhere. We are sharing the concept and setting down the gauntlet. It will only become a reality if it is collaboratively designed and developed by the whole energy industry.

The ESO has has set out its initial thinking on what a roadmap could look like, but we need our best and brightest minds to feed into this to shape its future. We know we won’t always reach a perfect consensus every time, but only through engagement and open collaboration will the full benefits be unlocked.

If you want to see an overview of the Virtual Energy System, and a brief outline on the suggested structure, it is available here.

There are still many, many questions that need to be answered. And even more questions that these answers will lead to, such as:

  • What are the right policies to govern the development and operation of such a system?
  • How can it be built to be safe, secure, and able to evolve as our needs change and we innovate in ways we currently do not have sight of?
  • How is the need for high resolution data balanced with the need to protect privacy and commercial confidentiality?
  • How do separate digital twins become part of a wider, shared system, bringing unified intelligence while retaining commercial competitive advantage?

What comes next for the energy industry?

The immediate next steps are clear. We are inviting the energy industry to join us, Ofgem, BEIS and others, at our free online conference on 1st December; an opportunity to explore the proposed programme, and the beginning of our feedback period. From this, we plan to form working groups to begin a deeper dive into the key areas of development that will underpin the entire development journey.

The journey to net zero is one that none of us can undertake alone. Together we can create a holistic view of our entire energy system that allows all of us to make better decisions and advance to a carbon-free future. Now is the time to establish our industry as world-leading in collaboration and positive change.

Sign up to the conference here.