DevOps at Nationalgrid ESO - the Balancing Mechanism revolution

clock • 3 min read
Sam Rowell

Sam Rowell

National Grid ESO is the electricity system operator for Great Britain. We move electricity round Great Britain’s system to keep homes and businesses supplied with the energy they need 24/7, 365 days a year.

Our control room moves electricity in real time to ensure that the right amount of electricity is where it's needed, when it's needed - always keeping supply and demand in perfect balance. We don't generate or sell electricity - that's down to other companies.

To revolutionise the balancing mechanism, to support the delivery of net-zero, the ESO has developed the "Open Balancing Platform" (OBP). The first stage of this new platform went live in December 2023 unlocking new levels of precision for the ESO control room, enabling Bulk Dispatch, a new tool that allows the control room engineers to send hundreds of instructions to smaller Balancing Mechanism Units and Battery storage unit sites at the press of a single button. This has greatly reduced the time taken to send instructions and reduced the manual effort required in the control room. This will drive increased value for consumers by increasing the optimisation of network balancing, speeding up the process and reducing costs.

The OBP Platform/DevOps team delivered the underpinnings of the solution, including the platform and delivery capability across a hybrid hosting estate. From humble beginnings three years ago with only six engineers the team has grown to 20 (including Product Owner and Scrum Master) to meet the needs and velocity of the programme. The team is resourced from multiple cross disciplined IT suppliers (Capgemini, IBM, TCS, Wipro) establishing a truly badges-at-the-door ethos, with team members from onshore, nearshore and offshore locations.

The team delivered fully automated and advanced KNative pipelines (driven by GitOps) and infrastructure as code, all built on a containerised layer to enable delivery at pace. 100+ developers and testers have been enabled and empowered with self-serve pipelines with a "shift left" focus on Test first, DAST and SAST enabling iterative delivery at pace with quality, security and reliability. On pull-request a pipeline is triggered for the developer that runs all security testing, build, instantiation of an environment and deployment of their service. A full pipelines run from development to higher testing environments with a transfer and quarantine mechanism from public cloud to private datacentre.

Observability, monitoring and logging has been important for us. We have dashboards for infrastructure, apps, release management and more, enabling complete transparency which has reduced dependency on our engineers freeing them up to do more meaningful work.

On a more social level the team has also met for quarterly social and planning events. Each sprint a different engineer acts as "Sprint Runner" running daily stand-ups. The weekly "coffee quiz" signifies being halfway through the week and an opportunity for non-work based interaction with the winner having the privilege of running the next quiz.

The team has balanced delivering features with Continuous Improvement activities and technical debt resolution often accrued through tactical solutions delivered to unblock other aspects of a highly agile and fast paced delivery.

In its delivery, the OBP DevOps team has improved velocity and ways of working for both itself and the entire programme making OBP the example project for others within both the ESO and suppliers own organisations.

We have developed a highly capable, performant and diverse team that has delivered value at pace whilst ensuring quality, reliability and security of the OBP system to its stakeholders (internal and external). A testament to the power of teamwork and collaboration. The roadmap is ongoing and the team looks to build on this success.

"By enabling transformation in our balancing capabilities, the ESO can continue to deliver world class reliability and security, both now and in the future."

Sam Rowell is product owner - Open Balancing Platform - Platform & DevSecOps at IBM. Sam is a DevOps Evangelist with 8 years' experience of DevOps working at IBM across healthcare, communications and energy sectors. He has a demonstrated track record of delivering DevOps Transformations and implementing agile ways of working on large scale complex programmes. He provides the bridge between technical engineers and non-technical stakeholders. In his current position Sam is the Product owner for the "Platform & DevSecOps" team on the Open Balancing Platform, National Grid ESOs flagship project - A multi-supplier, blended experience team that has delivered real change within the organisation and set the pace.


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