Professor Phil Taylor, Director and Dr Sara Walker, Associate Director of the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration have revisited the notion of the System Architect (IET 2014; Taylor 2014). How does this role need to change to reflect the ongoing evolution of the UK’s energy system? They have prepared a discussion article to articulate what this role might be and what organisation (or group of organisations) might be challenged with delivering its activities.
A copy of their paper is available from this link The Role of the System Architect – CESI Publications CESI-TF-0006
About the Authors
Professor Phil Taylor is the Director and Principal Investigator at CESI. He is an internationally leading researcher and industrial expert in energy systems, electrical distribution networks, smart grids and energy storage integration and control. He is the Siemens Professor of Energy Systems, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor of SAgE Faculty and Head of the School of Engineering at Newcastle University.
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Dr Sara Walker is an Associate Director and Co-Investigator at CESI. Her research focus is regarding renewable energy technology and transitions to low carbon systems, with a particular focus on policy and building scale solutions. She is Director of Expertise for Infrastructure at the School of Engineering at Newcastle University.
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About the National Centre for Energy Systems Integration
The £20M EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) brings together an interdisciplinary team of experts to gain a deeper understanding of the value of taking a whole systems energy approach to the energy trilemma. Led by Newcastle University, CESI is a consortium of five research intensive universities and a wide range of public and industrial sector partners.
Working with Industry
CESI currently has over 34 industrial and government organisations collaborating with our team of academics and researchers. They provide:
- a steer on the relevance of our work
- access to their experts for consultation
- access to resources such as engineers, labs, data and other valuable assets
- front-line insight to the needs of the industry and their customers
Energy infrastructure is considered a critical infrastructure for the UK, vital to economic prosperity. Current and future changes to the way we use energy will increasingly impact on local and national energy infrastructure. These energy issues require long term solutions based around a systems thinking approach which is immune to short term commercial and political pressures. This is important given that investment decisions can take decades to be realised and can be locked in for the next 50 years or more.
The challenges of creating a UK energy system which meets the needs of a modern economy have led to the notion of a System Architect. The original concept was assumed to be a centralised planner role but this maybe too prescriptive. In this paper, the System Architect concept is revisited.
The authors have proposed a System Architect which takes a long term, non-political, non-commercially based view of energy industry and system strategy. The System Architect can be flexible to enable bottom up initiatives as well as top down UK system overview.
The proposed System Architect is to have a role within policy making as well as policy implementation. This raises issues of governance and transparency. There is a need to ensure that a System Architect has some accountability and legitimacy.
The top down manifestation of the System Architect idea could include the System Operator function working alongside organisations such as the Energy Systems Catapult, the National Infrastructure Commission, and NGOs such as National Energy Action. A key question is whether a national level System Architect of this nature could coexist with a number of regional bottom up System Architects. The Centre for Energy Systems Integration is interested in investigating this.
What is clear, arising out of consideration of the UK’s long term energy future, is that whole systems thinking is complex but it enables:
- more options, considering, for example, shared storage and shared assets
- longer term thinking
- a holistic approach to energy trilemma
Decision making will be more complex, however, needing an interdisciplinary approach and greater co-ordination. It also means that leaving things to the market is difficult.
However, the benefits of a System Architect approach which embraces whole systems thinking have a value to the sector as we move forward. These benefits include:
- improved whole system efficiency
- increased asset utilisation
- increased utilisation of renewable energy
- improved system reliability
- improved system flexibility
- and importantly, decision making appropriate to geography and/or energy vector
Without the role, we risk a fragmented, costly and ultimately ineffective energy system which fails to deliver a low-carbon modern energy system to UK industry and society.
The authors look forward to your views on their vision of the System Architect role, so please do not hesitate to contact us with your thoughts.
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As a reminder – a copy of their paper is available from this link The Role of the System Architect – CESI Publications CESI-TF-0006
Taylor, P. 2014. ‘We need an independent architect to redesign the UK energy industry’, The Guardian.
IET. 2014. “Britain’s Power System The case for a System Architect.” In. London: IET.