A potential future multi-vector energy landscape for the UK

13 December 2016
A potential future multi-vector energy landscape for the UK

The Energy Systems Catapult is a leading technology and innovation centre set up to help the UK navigate the transformation of its energy system (comprising electricity, heat and combustible gases) and to capture the new commercial opportunities created. In mid-2015, the Catapult approached Ricardo with a view to supporting a study into the potential of developing a core test and demonstration competence in the multi-vector energy space within the UK.

“One of the key challenges for those active in looking at multi-vector energy systems is the ability to test new innovations,” explains Catapult head of innovation Eric Brown. “Our aim with this multi-phase project was to assess the potential for such a capability within the UK, based on a thorough analysis of existing facilities and development options.”

Energy systems are changing, whether by necessity, technology improvement or consumer needs. The ability to cope with energy flows in both directions, both upstream and downstream, can create major challenges in balancing supply and demand; this often results in infrastructure capital costs to upgrade for peak supply/demand capacity as well as the associated increased running costs for operation and maintenance. Additionally, the ability to integrate the energy supply and demand requirements of the electricity, transportation and heating sectors is increasing, giving rise to the potential for multi-vector approaches and the development of integrated energy systems.

Such innovations could potentially deliver significant economic, industrial and societal benefits, in terms of national energy efficiency, international technological leadership, and climate change mitigation. However, the scale and specialization are such that a much wider perspective is required than might be possible from any one commercial or private sector actor within the existing energy landscape.

The Energy Systems Catapult therefore required completely independent and objective support in studying the potential requirements of a multi-vector energy future.

A project team was assembled, encompassing experts from across the Ricardo divisions – including the energy practice of Ricardo Energy & Environment. The objective of the first phase of the study was to build an understanding of the current status of multi-vector energy testing and demonstration tools and facilities in the UK, and to identify any gaps.

By comparing existing test facility capabilities with market trends and potential end-user needs, a number of gaps and opportunities were identified. One objective was to identify facilities with potential to offer or to be expanded to accommodate a multi-vector testing approach. Additionally, the team identified other UK organizations with extensive multi-vector energy facilities and capabilities that could be exploited, but which do not currently see energy as their primary function.

In the second phase of the study, carried out in early 2016, the team investigated the additional facilities identified in phase 1 and developed use cases and requirements for a potential future multi-vector testing facility. A total of six use cases were developed, based on the results of extensive stakeholder engagement. These ranged from developing a business case and commercial support for innovation, through to the demonstration of multi-vector energy systems and components, and effectively cross-mapped onto the levels of NASA’s TRL model.

Based on this work, the technical and non-technical requirements for each use case were identified, ranging from the physical assets and systems that the facility needs, to the human and commercial aspects of the facility.

“This was my first experience of working with Ricardo,” concludes Brown. “The team performed exactly as I would expect of a professional multi-disciplinary consulting company. They articulated the problem in detail before starting the work, and they delivered the results to me in a manner that was both informative and actionable. This work provides us with a very solid foundation for further study with a view to prototyping and evaluating such a multi-vector energy test and demonstration capability.”

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