Written evidence submitted by Grid Scientific Limited
Grid Scientific offers independent consulting, project and advisory services that focus on delivering energy system transformation, achieving Net Zero and responding to the climate emergency. Whole systems approaches play a central role in the work, reflecting the need to consider the energy system holistically and the imperative to deliver climate, economic and social benefits through change at pace.
Grid Scientific draws on learning and experience gained in the telecommunications and energy sectors and an understanding of transformation processes and the complex interactions of technology, business, regulation, policy and people. The portfolio of work spans electricity, heat and transport as well as enablers such as digitalisation and systems integration.
This submission is being made to highlight and support the case for taking a whole systems approach in undertaking transition of Critical National Infrastructure to respond to the climate emergency.
1. Key vulnerabilities and levels of preparedness of UK CNI to extreme weather events and other effects of climate change, including:
- The possible compound effects of such events.
- The interdependencies between different aspects of UK CNI.
- Supply chain vulnerabilities; and
- Recent “near miss” scenarios.
- Measures to address and adapt to the implications of climate change effects such as extreme weather should be coordinated and integrated with measures to transition to Net Zero.
- Transformation programmes will be required in all CNI sectors to achieve decarbonisation objectives and deliver good climate, economic and social outcomes.
- Interactions between and amongst CNI sectors are becoming increasingly strong and the interdependencies more numerous making it impossible to deliver needed outcomes if each CNI sector is considered as a silo. A key example arises from the “the digitalisation of everything” which impacts to a lesser or greater extent all other CNI sectors creating major dependencies on communications systems and energy systems.
- “Whole CNI” resilience is required, not just that of the individual CNI sectors.
- We will not be successful in responding to the climate emergency unless we apply “system of systems” thinking and whole systems approaches. These are required to address the complexity and scale of the interactions and interdependencies in the CNI landscape.
- Whole systems approaches will enable better decision making, particularly given that a broad spectrum of parties including many who have never worked together before will be required to do so.
- With insight into the whole system, it is possible to focus on key decisions and priorities, identify low/no regrets actions and avoid or mitigate unintended consequences and false starts.
- Whole systems approaches offer the ability to align action with CNI that is implemented in different scales: local, regional, national, international. Assuring decisions are made at the right level and that interventions aggregate coherently is essential.
- Transformation in individual CNI sectors and in the CNI landscape as an integrated whole must be undertaken and successfully delivered without interruption or disruption to the services provided. This requires a high degree of coordination that cannot be achieved without taking a systems approach.
2. What might constitute an ‘acceptable’ level of resilience to climate change within UK CNI, both to near-term risks and longer-term uncertainties or ‘tipping points’, and the obstacles to achieving it.
CNI sectors cannot be considered independently when defining “acceptable”; there are significant interactions and interdependencies, requiring a whole systems perspective be taken on determining what is possible, feasible and viable in delivering an “acceptable” level of resilience. Using a whole systems approach will help address the following:
- The definition of “acceptable” will change over time:
as transformation programmes in individual sectors progress and as the interactions and dependencies between sectors change as a result of this progress
as limits on what is actually achievable emerge; technical and operational considerations may mean desired resilience levels are not a design or implementation option
as society becomes more dependent on certain capabilities being available; “the digitalisation of everything” will have implications on expectations for the energy sector for example
as the impacts of climate change become stronger and more visible and citizens more immediately threatened, extreme weather and wildfires for example
as generational and demographic influences are felt.
- The definition of “acceptable” will change in place:
some parts of the country will be more affected, by virtue of proximity to the sea for example
some parts of the country will be more impacted, industrial versus residential or urban versus rural for example
different parts of the country may be better or less well equipped or more or less willing to deal with the impact of climate of change
some parts of the country will be participating in sector transformation in different ways which will expose them to different risks or make them more adaptable etc; in energy for example, community energy and microgrids can alter the resilience landscape.
- The definition of “acceptable” will vary with the measures that are applied: cost, carbon, amenity, fairness, geo-political exposures, amongst others.
- The definition of “acceptable” and knowing that it is on track to being achieved or that it has been achieved and is being maintained will depend on the ability to monitor and collect good quality data not just for individual sectors but across the CNI landscape.
- The definition of “acceptable” will vary for different stakeholders. This suggests the benefits of applying an approach that explicitly seeks to engage all relevant stakeholders, align goals to the extent feasible and express these as a set of shared needs.
- The risks and uncertainties will be emergent. It is necessary therefore that structures are established which allow emergent behaviours and change in stakeholder perspective to be accommodated in resilience approaches. This suggests the need to be able to be agile and iterative in response.
Achieving an “acceptable” level of resilience against this background of change and uncertainty requires a whole system approach to ensure that the complexity of the situation is being effectively and efficiently addressed. This approach can be applied across the CNI landscape to assure cross-sector interactions and dependencies are revealed and within individual sectors to address transition that is occurring at the sector level. This means treating this as a “system of systems” challenge.
3. The effectiveness of Government policy, legislation and implementation frameworks for managing national security risks arising from climate change, including those emerging within the private sector.
- Responding to the risks arising from climate change should follow a whole systems approach to achieving decarbonisation and delivering good climate, economic and social outcomes. This is not to suggest that these efforts need to be centrally planned, but a framework is required that provides coherent leadership and centrally coordinated analysis, strategy and delivery.
- The interactions, interdependencies and trade-offs between climate mitigation and adaptation are sufficiently strong to warrant explicit alignment. The central coordination function can then delegate appropriate decision making to the individual CNI sectors which in turn may have explicit central coordination for their respective areas. For example, an Energy System Architect function has been much discussed in the context of the transformation of the energy system; the same principles could be applied more broadly.
- A key aspect of central coordination and a fundamental principle of systems approaches is the active engagement of the right stakeholders to ensure shared purpose, to enable flows of needed data, information and knowledge and to gain support for delivery and ongoing iterative improvement. Stakeholders include government of all levels, regulators, industry, supply chains, innovators, finance and investment, consumers and citizens as appropriate.
- The exchange of data, information and knowledge is necessary but not sufficient; outcomes driven coordination is also required.
- Delivery must account for the fact that projects and programmes will involve complex solutions, a broad spectrum of stakeholders, a variety of funding mechanisms and the uncertainty that characterises the innovation process.
- Innovation in technologies, value propositions, business models, policy and regulation will be required and must not be undertaken in siloes. Deep coordination will be needed to ensure that innovation is timely and makes best use of funding and investment and other scarce resources.
- Regulation will need to support and enable the erosion of siloes between sectors. The call for principles-based approaches aims to respond to the need to accommodate innovation, agility and iteration whilst protecting consumer and national interests.
- Social awareness will grow, partially because of the increased evidence of climate caused extreme weather events. Consumers and citizens will demand action and will reflect this in their political capacity. This needs to be balanced by approaches and interventions that are not tied to the political cycle; sustained effort, not politically expedient intervention is needed.
The paper “A Systems Approach to Delivering Net Zero: Recommendations from the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology” [the CST Paper] provides a solid foundation.
The CST Paper is framed in terms of applying a whole systems approach to address the challenges and opportunities of achieving Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions. However, the systems engineering-based principles, functions and recommendations it describes could be extended and applied to the broader scope of adaptation and preparedness for the impacts of climate change more broadly. Importantly the document goes beyond the more usual discussion of “what” needs to be done and considers the question of “how”. It acknowledges the high degree of uncertainty that pervades effective response to climate change and provides foundational thinking on how to establish the structures and mechanisms that will enable the coherent, collaborative and coordinated effort that will be needed to deliver good climate, economic and social outcomes for communities and the people that live and work in them.
4. Allocation of roles and responsibilities at the national, devolved and local level, and the connections between them.
- A key question in operationalising a “system of systems” approach is the degree of central coordination that is required; in other words what is the relationship between the “system of systems” and its constituent systems. It must be emphasised this is about central coordination, not central control, nor central planning.
- A degree of central coordination will be required to achieve the required outcomes across the CNI landscape as a whole and in each of the CNI sectors. The degree of coordination can vary across a spectrum: from very low in which there is loose agreement on certain standardised aspects of engagement through to very high, in which goals are set and delivery is managed centrally. A degree of coordination that could be appropriate in the case of responding to climate change issues is one in which objectives are shared by all the participant sectors, there are dedicated system of systems functions to support the effort but the constituent systems retain independent ownership, objectives, funding and development approaches. Change would be consensus driven but escalation paths would be available.
- The case could be made for a “CNI Architect” function that would provide central coordination, support the collaboration and innovation agenda and bring independence to decision making if/as required.
- It should be noted that there will be variations for certain types of decisions; the approach should be to deploy decision making as closely as possible to the stakeholder community most interested or affected supported by the assurance that shared needs are being addressed by virtue of the systems approach.
- One challenge served by the systems approach is to understand the relationship between local, devolved and national plans and actions so that actions aggregate to give coherent outcomes at all levels.
5. The role of the Government’s forthcoming National Resilience Strategy, particularly in addressing opportunities for (and obstacles to) improved resilience among CNI providers.
- The forthcoming National Resilience Strategy should clearly identify this as a “system of systems” problem and require use of a whole systems approach to address the challenges and gain access to the opportunities.
- The Strategy should provide direction on the arrangements needed to operationalise such an approach, drawing from and extending the thinking provided in the CST Paper.
- This will include the governance functions needed to coordinate the efforts of stakeholders and enable the information flows that will support good decision making both collectively and individually.
- In doing this the Strategy can explicitly acknowledge not only the needs of the individual CNI sectors but critically the interactions and interdependencies amongst them. This can help identify options for implementation and support achieving economies in delivery.
- The Strategy should acknowledge citizens as explicit whole system stakeholders whose acceptance of change will be a key success factor in achieving resilience across the CNI landscape in an environment where substantial transformation will be happening in many if not all CNI sectors.
- The Strategy should acknowledge the need for communications and education of stakeholders including citizens, in order to achieve the balance between high expectations of CNI sectors in terms of availability, quality, convenience and cost and the growing complexity of the CNI landscape as it becomes increasingly interconnected and as it transforms to achieve Net Zero.
- Responding to climate change implies increased technical, commercial, regulatory and policy complexity for CNI sectors and for the CNI landscape considered as an interconnected whole. The Strategy should address the need for new skills and capabilities across the whole spectrum, from research, to innovation, to implementation, operation and use. These skills and capabilities will be increasingly inter-disciplinary. Skills must be accompanied by efforts to build broadly based literacy amongst decision makers, who will be called upon to make decisions that rely on some understanding of multiple perspectives, carbon, climate, technical, regulatory, finance for example.
- The Strategy must help create confidence amongst those who will provide the finance and investment to transform individual CNI sectors and to address the system level integrations that will be needed across the CNI landscape. A whole systems framework and approach will help provide the coherence and visibility that will support pricing risk.
- The Strategy needs to identify the role for innovation and seek the contributions of innovators in technology, business models, regulation, policy, operations and use that will enable the transformation of the CNI sectors and their interactions in pursuit of good climate, economic and social outcomes.
- There is urgency, and pace is required. Structure is needed to align needs, interests and actions across the CNI landscape and its stakeholders.
6. The extent and effectiveness of UK-wide monitoring and early warning systems.
- An important aspect of the application of a systems approach is that measurement and monitoring are explicitly deigned into measures or interventions that are deployed, and that the discipline and mechanisms are implemented to ensure that the learning from these activities is applied to the ongoing development of the strategic direction of travel, the expression of the needs of stakeholders and the strategy and delivery plans.
- This must function in individual CNI sectors but critically at the key interactions points between CNI sectors. The dependency on digitalisation and its dependency on energy is an illustrative example; assuring energy sector resilience will increasingly depend on the resilience of the digital and communications infrastructure.
- This effort cannot be limited to data, information and knowledge sharing. It also requires coordination of action to ensure the right monitoring is happening, that data is being interpreted consistently, that resulting learning is applied across the CNI sectors and that any actions arising are coordinated.
7. The opportunities presented by technological solutions (such as AI and digital twins) for anticipating and managing the implications of climate change for CNI.
- It seems certain that digitalisation will play a significant role in the transformation of most if not all of the CNI sectors as these sectors seek to respond to the climate emergency.
- Digitalisation will also be needed to enable the increasing level of interaction between CNI sectors and will form a key part of cross-sector integration.
- Digitalisation can play a role across the life cycle, from planning, to implementation to operation and delivery of services. This may permit some risks to be designed out, to enhance the ability to forecast/predict impactful events and to deploy more sophisticated, rapid probabilistic responses to events when they occur, both to contain them and to recover from them.
- There is a strong dependency on the availability of data to support digitalisation and to achieve these potential benefits. This data must be of acceptable quality, be timely and be available across CNI sectors. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the principles and practices of open data are consistently applied. Approaches must be in place to assure consistent interpretation of data for coherent actions and interventions.
- Substantial effort and innovation are committed to understanding how digitalisation – data, algorithms, computing, communications - will be deployed to best effect. AI and Digital Twins are two aspects of this work which show great promise and for which there are very high expectations; however, they are not a panacea, and their role needs to be clear.
- Dependency on digitalisation introduces risks in its own right: impact of climate events on communications networks (flooding for example), cyber-attack, design fault, physical attack, operational errors; impacts can be presented as either system failure or system degradation (which may not be obvious or apparent).
- The relationship between digital systems and energy is particularly important because digital cannot work without electricity supply, and electricity supply will increasingly need digital to function.
- Dependency on digitalisation places critical demands on digital resilience which cannot be addressed only by system strengthening; adequate fall-back measures are also needed particularly for high impact, low likelihood events.
Mr Eric Brown, Director
13 February 2022