Ofgem provides £9.2m for smart grid trial

Energy watchdog Ofgem gas has agreed to part fund an "ambitious" £10.7m smart grid trial in the North West which could double the capacity of power networks - without installing new cables or overhead lines.

As part of the ‘Capacity to Customers’ project, electricity distribution company Electricity North West (ENW) plans to open up half of the North West’s electricity network, currently reserved as a back-up, and use it to distribute power to homes and businesses in the region more efficiently.

It is thought the scheme could save millions in engineering work by reducing the need for costly new infrastructure to be built in the region, as well as supporting economic growth by providing more capacity to new developments.

The project will run for three years from January 2012, and if successful, could be extended across the UK by other distribution network operators.

ENW was awarded the funding following a bid to Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund (LCNF). As a result, Ofgem is providing £9.2m 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.

According to ENW, if successful, the initiative could lead to reduced energy connection prices and costs for participating businesses, while also helping the UK’s energy sector move towards a low carbon future.

ENW chief executive Steve Johnson, 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.

Steve Johnston continued: “The only current viable alternative way to significantly increase the capacity of an electricity network is to build new infrastructure. This requires major construction work, huge investment and disruption.”

In order to encourage large businesses to support the project, ENW said it will be offering firms 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.

By getting bigger companies on board, ENW anticipates that this will enable it to increase the overall load on the network, which will help support a stronger back-up network.

The project will be carried out by ENW in partnership with GE Digital Energy, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Flexitricity, EnerNOC, npower, National Grid, University of Manchester and University of Strathclyde.

Carys Matthews

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