National Grid ESO receives Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) grant to advance development for digitising Great Britain’s energy system


National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has been awarded a Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) grant of almost £150,000 to support its Common Framework Project – the development of the principles and technical framework for the creation of the Virtual Energy System programme – a digital replica of Britain’s entire energy landscape.

Made up of multiple digital twins, the Virtual Energy System will work in parallel to the physical system, affording a virtual environment to share real-time data and enable users to model and predict scenarios that will support the decarbonisation of the energy industry, while supporting a digital-first and sustainable energy network for the future.

Digital twins will be developed by a wide range of industry participants, which will join and interact with one another to better simulate real-world scenarios and help advance innovation. The first step in making this vision a reality is to develop a Common Framework which can be used to understand what standards should be set out with participants to facilitate collaboration and compatibility.

National Grid ESO is working with a range of project partners and technical consortium who bring considerable expertise in digital twins, systems-thinking, and energy data to the project.

Earlier this year, it announced that it had appointed Arup, supported by Energy Systems Catapult and Icebreaker One, to help identify and articulate the relevant principles for the technical framework which will serve as a ‘blueprint’, enabling multiple parties to develop digital twins which are interoperable and can interact with the Virtual Energy System, using open data.

Jonathan Barcroft, Common Framework Workstream Lead, National Grid ESO said; “While the Virtual Energy System aims to foster innovation and development, it’s vital that different pieces of the Digital Twin are compatible and adhere to a Common Framework.

A project of this ambition, scale and complexity has never been achieved before and the programme will run over several years. This next phase of the Common Framework Project will enable us to explore key considerations for the creation of the Virtual Energy System, including themes such as cyber security, data quality, metadata, legal and regulatory issues, and common attributes of digital twins.

This grant from the Strategic Innovation Fund will be used to pay for our technical partner to develop the common framework and for our network partners to provide the required subject matter expertise, advancing progress for the development of the Virtual Energy System.”

This initial stage funding forms part of the Ofgem 2021: whole system integration – Discovery competition and will enable the potential for the Virtual Energy System, as an early-stage project, to be further explored and developed. The project is funded by energy network users and consumers through the Strategic Innovation Fund, a programme from the UK’s independent energy regulator Ofgem managed in partnership with Innovate UK.

Simon Evans, Global Digital Energy Leader at Arup, said: “The Virtual Energy System is an important step towards connecting the energy system, which is critical for achieving net zero. This will offer new opportunities for innovation, providing new ways to collaborate and create new, more efficient services for consumers. Often there is much focus on the visualisation of digital twins, so we are both proud and excited to be bringing our expertise in the digital and energy industries to focus on identifying the data requirements needed and the underlying interoperability between systems to allow the exchange and flow of data.”

In addition to being used by industry and in the longer-term, consumers, it is anticipated that the Virtual Energy System will offer widespread benefits to government departments, regulators, academics and think-tanks, informing strategies, policies and regulatory decisions to advance net-zero transition.

An integrated view of the energy system, including the impact on multiple sectors, would also allow the Future System Operator to manage and operate the system in such a way that it would drive cost efficiencies and optimise the reduction of C02 emissions.

Virtual Energy System insights will also support new market opportunities, business models and the acceleration of digital innovation within the energy sector.