A ‘system of systems’: Moving towards the digital enablement of autonomous and scalable Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES)

A ‘system of systems’: Moving towards the digital enablement of autonomous and scalable Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES)

Dr Alison Halford, Research Fellow, Centre for Computational Science and Mathematical Modelling, Coventry University.

20 January 2022

Since the early 2000s, the design and operation of energy systems has been transformed in response to increasing consumer demands, market expandability, and efforts to address global carbon emissions.  There has been a shift away from an energy system that primarily uses fossil fuels, fixed tariffs, and limited digitalisation, towards an approach that utilises centralised digital services, and tailored use-case solutions that can, for instance, predict future energy behaviour and identify system faults.

The development of distributed measurement and control systems has enabled SLES to be used to optimise energy services, enhance data capture, and adapt for multiple scenarios and variable tariffs, such as allowing for additional control for renewable energy markets with variable rates and prosumer contracts for small and medium producers. By having flexible and adaptable energy systems variable renewable energy sources can be managed allowing interaction within and between networks, systems, data, and end-users.

For energy systems to enable reliable, safe and low carbon energy, their design will have to move from the current partially digitalised framework towards fully digitised, flexibly interconnected, multi-layer plug and play architectures. But what does a fully digitalised energy system look like?

‘A System of Systems’: a fully digitalised energy system model

A fully digitalised energy system involves a ‘system of systems’ approach where many different energy systems elements, such as control, markets and analytics, interact with each other. For example, an energy dispatch controller computes suitable generation targets based on an optimisation cost. Introducing a market layer provides the controllers with data on local markets and pricing, which could modify the optimisation cost and in turn allow the market layer to redefine local pricing.

As a ‘system of systems’ is a network of complex layers they need to be shaped by some clear design principles to aid communication and co-operation when transferring accurate data and information across and between the system to maximise resources in a fair and transparent manner. These design principles include:

  • Local Demand Energy Resource units trade and optimise their functionality based on user needs and local measurements
  • The layers within an energy system whether physical, control, market, service, or security, have allocated roles, functional responsibilities, and technical requirements
  • Existing communication architecture is replaced with dynamic peer to peer and agent-based channels
  • Artificial intelligence and Multi-Agent Systems  are adopted that can characterise existing use-cases and define the boundaries of their various components
  • Ethical approaches to data management, storage, and consent that seek transparency in decision making are prioritised, supporting Sustainable Development Goals and respecting producers, consumers, and policy.

In the transition to highly complex digital energy systems, challenges in the design process need to be addressed:

  • The potential increase of security risks, including cyber-attacks and privacy intrusions
  • Time intensive computational costs to meet practical, regulatory, and optimisation requirements
  • A lack of transparency and/or understanding of digitalisation energy system design within industry, government and the general public that limits opportunities for deployment or engagement

These concerns should not act as a deterrent to implementing fully digitalised energy systems as the societal benefits are significant. Well managed and organised energy systems have the ability to update, replace, and interchange digital components effectively, which allows for reducing national carbon emissions and achieving policy requirements to meet sustainable development and environmental goals. Metrics that improve data analysis, such as more detailed information around energy costs and grid constraints satisfaction can also be provided.  As energy technologies, needs, and services evolve, a fully digitalised ‘system of systems’ offers the potential to move towards greater equity, fairness, and ethical approaches within the energy sector.

EnergyREV’s latest briefing: Cyber-physical components of an autonomous and scalable SLES provides more information on designing and implementing fully digitalised Smart Local Energy Systems.