Electricity North West has secured funding from Ofgem for an ambitious £10m trial which could double the capacity of power networks without the need to install new cables or overhead lines.
The company plans to open up the half of the North West network that’s currently reserved as a back-up and use it to distribute power to homes and businesses in the region to meet the increasing demand for electricity.
If successful, the ‘Capacity to Customers’ project could save millions by reducing the need for costly new infrastructure to be built in the region and will support economic growth by providing more capacity to new developments, more quickly and easily.
Ofgem is providing £9.2m of funding for the project. A further £1.5m will be invested by Electricity North West and other partners, taking the total project value to £10.7m.
Steve Johnson, CEO of Electricity North West, said: “This project aims to get more out of what’s already built by bringing together new technology developed by our engineers and partners to transform the way distribution companies like Electricity North West operate networks.
“Half of the electricity network in the region isn’t used and is simply on standby to kick-in when there’s an emergency. This isn’t the most productive use of assets that cost billions to build. Our new project will release this latent capacity on a controlled basis.
“It will be like opening up the hard shoulder on the motorway, but will have the effect of three hard shoulders because we’re effectively doubling the number of lanes. This could have a profound effect on the way distribution is managed in the future."
Electricity North West currently owns and manages 13,000km of overhead lines, 43,000km of underground cables and 38,000 transformers distributing power to the 2.4 million properties and 5 million people in the North West.
However, despite the size of the regional power network, and Electricity North West’s current five year £1.4 billion investment programme, the demand for electricity could double by 2050 as the UK moves towards cleaner energy and reduces its reliance on fossil fuels.
It’s estimated that the cost of upgrading the UK electricity network by building more infrastructure to meet the demand could be as much as £1.8 billion by 2025 just in the North West, and £15 billion across Great Britain – the equivalent of almost £600 for every household.
Steve Johnson continued: “The only current viable way to significantly increase the capacity of an electricity network is to build new infrastructure. This requires major construction work, huge investment and disruption.
“Our new Capacity to Customers project will explore innovative new ways to free up capacity and could be a major step forward for the industry as we move towards a low carbon future for the energy sector."
Electricity North West will be approaching large businesses in the region to support the project by giving them incentives to prioritise their energy use and to agree that non-essential parts of their supply could be cut off at short notice if a fault occurs, allowing the network to fulfil its fall-back role. This will enable the company to increase the overall load on the network.
The company predicts that, on average, a fault affecting businesses that sign up to its new agreement would only happen once every five years and only for a very small number of hours while the problem was fixed.
Electricity North West’s project will run for three years from January 2012. If successful, the project could be extended across the UK by other distribution network operators and lead to reduced energy connection prices and costs for participating businesses.
Electricity North West was awarded the funding following a bid to Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund (LCNF).
Electricity North West will be working on the project with partners including GE Energy, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Flexitricity, EnerNOC, npower, National Grid, University of Manchester and University of Strathclyde.
For more information from Ofgem on the Low Carbon Networks Fund click here.