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UK investigates how to deal with low carbon tech

The Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR) – the UK’s largest smart grid project, run by Northern Powergrid, British Gas, EA Technology and Durham University – is looking at how to accommodate increasing numbers of low carbon technologies in a more cost-effective way.

The Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR) project, part-funded by Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund (LCNF),aims to understand how the use of low carbon technologies, such as solar panels, electric vehicles and heat pumps, impact on the current electricity grid network.  

The project involves the trialling of smart grid solutions on the electricity distribution network as well as creating smart-enabled homes to give customers more flexibility and choice over the way they use and generate electricity.

Findings from the project will provide guidance on how to meet the UK's future energy needs via the deployment of smart grid technologies and help the industry ensure the UK’s electricity networks are prepared for the mass introduction of low carbon technologies.

One aim of the project is to see if a level of flexibility can be established with customers and make existing electricity networks more efficient through innovative new ‘smart’ technology.

“On a national level the question being asked at the moment is, have we got enough generation?,” said Dr Liz Sidebotham, communications manager for the CLNR project. “The discussion has largely been regarding infrastructure and not much attention has been given to the role that customers can play in balancing supply and demand, although the conversation is beginning to move into that space.

“Demand-side solutions are all part of the bigger picture. The issue is, do we invest in infrastructure solutions or customer solutions? This is relevant at both the national level for generating capacity and at the regional level for electricity networks.”

“There are always opportunities to keep the demand–generation seesaw in balance. A lot of large energy users already have system balancing in place and it’s starting to look more attractive within the commercial sector to incentivise moving non-essential load off peak,” added Dave A Roberts, future networks director of EA Technology, one of the partnering companies involved in the CLNR. “There’s plenty of activity in this sector and smart grid projects like the CLNR are looking at understanding the flexibility of different types of industrial, commercial and domestic customers.

“Changing consumer usage behaviour is a much longer term goal, much as recycling took some time to become the norm. On the commercial side, there are already real incentives to take up demand-side response through contracts with commercial entities. The market is incentivising this dynamic – it’s already happening as fast-acting generation plants respond to loads.”

According to Dr Sidebotham, there is also the potential of looking at small-scale demand-side solutions by exploring the flexibility of business and domestic customers. “We are trialling a range of options with these groups, one of which is Time of Use tariffs, which encourage customers to save on their bills by moving some of their usage out of higher-rate peak times to lower rate off-peak times.

“We are already seeing indications that these customers have reduced demand at peak time, saving themselves money. A time of use tariff offered to customers more widely could help manage the local electricity network and keep national supply and demand in balance at peak times – at the same time enabling customers to reduce their energy bills.”

In the UK, old generation plants are being decommissioned without immediate replacement, while the wider uptake of low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles, solar photovoltaic panels, electrical energy storage and heat pumps – necessary if the UK is to meet its carbon reduction targets – presents fresh challenges.

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