Called the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR) project, the UK’s largest smart grid project worth £54m, has established a series of ongoing trials with 12,000 customers in the North East and Yorkshire. 

It aims to test a number of innovative solutions to ensure Britain’s electricity networks are fit for the future and ready for the mass uptake of low carbon technologies, such as solar PV, heat pumps and electric vehicles.

According to the CLNR, the UK’s successful transition to a low carbon economy depends on the integration of low carbon technologies on a nationwide scale.

As many of these are electricity-dependent, the additional demand created will mean that electricity networks across the UK need to become “smarter” to accommodate Britain’s changing energy requirements.

The CLNR has studied thousands of residential, commercial and industrial electricity customers to try and understand how much electricity people use, when they use it and for what purpose. It has also looked at whether financial or other incentives can encourage them to shift their usage away from periods of peak demand.

The initial findings of the project suggest that customers are happy to change their usual daily routines. For example, putting their dishwasher on overnight instead of during the day to benefit from a cheaper tariff.

The CLNR project’s Liz Sidebotham said: “Our findings at this stage are preliminary, but we have seen a huge appetite from domestic customers for our Time of Use (TOU) tariffs and this particular programme was actually oversubscribed, showing that customers are willing to take ownership of their electricity consumption in return for lower bills.

“This is hugely important because achieving a degree of customer flexibility in significant numbers is a win-win situation; offering customers a way to save money and network operators a means of cost-effectively reducing network demand at peak times.”

The CLNR project is led by Northern Powergrid and its partners British Gas, EA Technology and Durham University.

Sidebotham added: “The current debate around the capacity margin needed to meet the UK’s future energy needs has largely overlooked the role of smart grids and demand side measures, but if customers are willing to be flexible with how and when they use electricity, it would offer a cost-effective solution in the drive to create a sustainable, low carbon energy sector.”

Conor McGlone

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