A Smart Grid for all
We are making it cheaper and quicker for renewable energy to connect to our network, helping to make the case for investment in clean technology and encouraging the growth of more renewables.
In the future, anyone will be able to be a producer and a consumer of energy. Low carbon technology like electric vehicles, renewable energy, commercial or domestic storage and heat pumps are set to revolutionise the air quality of our towns and cities. UK Power Networks is committed to being an enabler of this revolution, while we continue keeping our customers lights on safely at the lowest possible cost.
Our future network priorities
Facilitate cheaper and quicker connections using proven innovation. Continue rollout of Flexible DG that uses Active Network Management.
Use customer flexibility as an alternative to network upgrades. Run market tenders for flexibility services such as Demand Side Response.
Develop enhanced System Operator capabilities. Develop TSO – DSO Commercial Framework, DER Dispatch capability and readiness for smart meters.
Collaborate with industry to enable GB wide benefits. Actively participate in industry forums to make this transition a reality.
Prepare and facilitate the uptake of electric vehicles. Enable connections using smart solutions and ensure business readiness.
How we work
We are making it cheaper and quicker for renewable energy to connect to our network, helping to make the case for investment in clean technology and encouraging the growth of more renewables.
We are setting out to make complex service offerings as simple and transparent as possible, allowing everyone, from domestic customers through to prosumers and big business, the opportunity to participate. To do this we worked with our stakeholders to help develop a simple, but effective campaign – ‘a smart grid for all’. This initiative used a multichannel approach to reach more than 31,000 potential customers, broken down by:
- 95 industry stakeholders at flagship event
- 3,873 unique microsite page views
- 68 pieces of external coverage
- 8,083 views of video post on LinkedIn
- 19,193 reach of launch blog post
- 257 mentions of #smartgrid and #futuresmart
- 32 consultation forms
- 30 engagement events
This initiative shows the breadth of engagement we have undertaken in what is a fundamental change for the industry, allowing stakeholders a crucial voice during the transition.
Establishing the first ever independent DSO
Taking a whole systems approach is fundamental to facilitating Net Zero at the lowest cost for our customers. We are establishing the first ever independent Distribution System Operator (DSO) by the start of ED2 in April 2023, that will act as the engine to deliver whole systems value. The five pillars of our DSO Strategy provide an overview of our approach, and you can download the full report at the link below.
The changing electricity system provides opportunities for network operators to manage and develop the energy system in new ways. The transition to a Distribution System Operator (DSO) involves using flexible demand and generation to support the planning and operation of the smart grid. Through use of open and transparent local markets, we shall procure this flexibility to deliver reliable supplies at efficient cost for our customers. In 2018 we became the first network operator in the UK to commit to a ‘Flexibility First’ approach. This means we will seek to procure flexible energy services as the default option to reinforcing or upgrading our assets, as long as it is the most cost-efficient option for our customers.
Our Flexibility Roadmap is available to download at the link below, and we have continued to push the boundaries. This year we have awarded £30m of contracts for 350MW of flexible power from our spring 2021 Flex Tender – our biggest ever flexibility tender award. This is almost three times more volume than was procured in 2020. We awarded contracts at 137 zones including 77 high voltage zones and 60 low voltage zones.
Our key capabilities
Monitoring and control
In order to manage our increasingly complex networks to make them as efficient as possible, we are developing a range of sophisticated ways to capture and analyse the data they produce. These enable us to coordinate with other elements of the electricity infrastructure and to optimise the available resources to provide a cost-effective, environmentally friendly power supply to our customers. The more streamlined and responsive our network is, the more efficiently it runs: which means cost savings for our customers.
The energy industry is at the heart of the UK`s journey to Net Zero as more consumers shift their behaviour and increase their reliance on electricity. Consumers will depend on electricity to heat, eat and move, in addition to keeping the lights on. It is therefore essential to increase the whole electricity system’s resilience. We must do this cost effectively.
Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and UK Power Networks recognise the opportunities this presents to enhance our resilience and facilitate Net Zero at the lowest cost for consumers. In order to overcome the complications we are leveraging the latest advances in 5G communication and software engineering to enhance our local substations by making them more intelligent, digital, interoperable and enable secure, scalable communication between them.
Constellation achieves this through a flexible and future proofed system for local intelligence working in partnership with our existing central systems. There are two distinct Methods:
- Method 1: Local ANM – Local network optimisation at the substation level to provide resilience to DER operation against loss of communication with the central systems.
- Method 2: Wide area and adaptive protection:
- Provide resilience to DG operation against instability events triggering the conventional generator protection. We will develop sophisticated protection algorithms to identify when the DER should disconnect, if events have caused islanded operation. This will rely on low latency communications via 5G slicing.
- Dynamically assessed protection settings and enhanced wide area control to enable more capacity for DER to connect. We will develop the ability to provide real time protection settings from the substation to dynamically validate and modify them. What makes it innovative/ a differentiator
Constellation paves the way to demonstrating a robust distributed control architecture that combines the benefits of centralised situational awareness and network state verification with local fast-acting control and protection. This takes forward the innovations and learning from previous and live projects (as well as commercial state of the art solutions and integrates new functionality in the substation environment.
Constellation is the first live demonstration of its kind and the first demonstration of wide area-based protection applied in a distribution network setting.
We expect the pace of technology development to continue with further improvements to low carbon technologies like EVs, photovoltaics and storage. Our previous work in Unified Protection and Radio Teleprotection projects laid the foundations of our local system enhancement. At the same time, our consumers are also changing their behaviour and energy consumption and are transitioning to a more active prosumer role with technologies like V2G. Constellation is our way to manage our network to enable these changes. It will kick-start an ecosystem where consumers, developers and providers work in a collaborative environment to meet the industry needs, and secondly to generate learning that the aforementioned stakeholders can utilise to refine their development, testing and adoption processes.
Constellation’s multi-sector collaboration builds new, cost-effective solutions to resolve current and future challenges with the transition to Net Zero.
- 1.98GVA of capacity for more low carbon generation could be released by 2030 by deploying Constellation across GB.
- Rolling out Constellation across GB would save customers a total of £111m by 2030 through reducing volume of flexibility services required or deferring network reinforcement and virtualisation of solutions which are traditionally installed as bespoke hardware; and
- Rolling out Constellation across GB could also facilitate an additional £21m of revenue due to the reduction in curtailment.
- At its core, Constellation is about cross-industry innovation to enable Net Zero. Constellation has the potential to greatly reduce carbon emissions by enabling more low carbon DG to connect, as well as reducing the curtailment of existing DG. We estimate that roll-out Constellation across GB can provide up to 1.9m tCO2 of carbon savings by 2030.
Dr Federico Coffele, R&D Director, from the Power Networks Demonstration Centre said: “This announcement is very exciting for the industry and will help us to develop and trial the next generation of digital substations, which will be a huge step forward for the industry. This solution will enable faster and more cost-effective development and deployment of smart solutions.”
Andrea Dona, chief network officer at Vodafone UK, said: “Helping customers achieve ambitious net zero targets is part of our strategy. The team at UK Power Networks has seen the huge potential of 5G and network slicing. 5G is not only replacing older and more expensive technologies, it is bringing about new capabilities that benefit everyone – consumers, businesses, and the environment.”
In May 2019, UK Power Networks unveiled plans to create the world’s most advanced electricity network control system. Over the last two years, UK Power Networks has been developing foundational capabilities as part of the Active Network Management (ANM) program that includes both technological and organisational capabilities. The initial capability is enabling the business to acclerate the integration of the flexible Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) requiring monitoring and control of the constrained part of the network. This will evolve to a more advanced system where the ANM will be able to monitor bigger part of the network to gain the most complete view possible of everything that is happening on the network at any given moment. This will enable the ANM to autonomously make complex decisions to optimise the flow of available power. The future ANM will leverage all the available network data by using advanced solutions such as dynamic load flow, state estimation, contingency analysis and optimisation to make more accurate network control decisions.
The Active Network Management system processes vast amounts of data to be able to run the South East of England’s increasingly dynamic network – that is now host to more than 170,000 electricity producers – both safely and more efficiently. With ANM we have enabled connections over 3GW of flexible connections and are seeing benefits such as reducing the need for building or upgrading existing infrastructure, speeding up new connections, enabling new markets and flexibility services.
ANM adopts a modular and scalable architecture to host emerging applications including market based DER services. Functioning like the operating system on your smart phone, it enables us to offer a large range of new products and financial opportunity for connected energy resources.
Distributed generation customers can now connect to the network an average of six months, or 115 working days, quicker thanks to ANM – that’s 60% faster than in 2018.
ANM quotes save customers on average 50% to 75% of the traditional connection cost, saving £72.5m and facilitating 250MW+ renewables through flexible connections – one of the ‘apps’ made possible by ANM – since 2015.
ANM adopts a modular and scalable architecture to host emerging applications including market based DER services. Functioning like the operating system on your smart phone, it enables us to offer a large range of new products and financial opportunity for connected energy resources.
Distributed generation customers can now connect to the network an average of six months, or 115 working days, quicker thanks to ANM – that’s 60% faster than in 2018.
ANM quotes save customers on average 50% to 75% of the traditional connection cost, saving £72.5m and facilitating 250MW+ renewables through flexible connections – one of the ‘apps’ made possible by ANM – since 2015.
We are developing a toolbox of smart solutions to enable the uptake of low carbon technologies at the lowest possible cost to our customers. This includes our Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS), which is responsible for the control and monitoring of all aspects of the distribution networks including secondary substations. It also includes any other points on the LV networks where automated equipment is installed. In addition, we operate Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) communications networks. The principal function of the SCADA network is to enable communication between the central OT systems such as the ADMS, and the remote devices that monitor and control the distribution networks.
Active Response will deliver two physical smart asset solutions, also known as Power Electronic Devices (PEDs), which can provide a range of benefits including the deferral of costly network reinforcement. The project will also deliver an advanced optimisation and automation platform which will be part of a larger Active Network Management (ANM) platform. The SOP and SPB can control power flows, fault levels and voltages on the LV and HV networks respectively. In order to maximise network capacity, the ANM platform will optimise the network configuration through changing open points on the network and also optimise the behaviour of the SOPs and SPBs.
The trials demonstrated that for the first time more than 500 electric vehicle chargers could be connected around a single electricity substation using the technology rather than building new cables and substations. Active Response was able to process vast amounts of data and use switches to automatically reconfigure power flows around the network, efficiently distributing electrical load across the available infrastructure. The project could save customers across the UK £271m in reinforcement costs, approximately £9.34 from every customer’s bill, by 2030. As well as reducing reinforcement costs, the project will help reduce overloading on circuits; this in turn will reduce Customer Interruptions (CI) and Customer Minutes Lost (CML), the key parameters for measuring the frequency and duration of power cuts experienced by customers.
Symon Brown, account director at CGI, said: “CGI are proud to be a partner on Active Response. As a team, we have come a long way in informing how a rapidly changing energy network will operate in the future. We have had some impressive results, and as the transition to Net Zero will be enabled through projects like this, it is evident that Active Response is an important step along the way.”
Sarah Carter, UK business area manager at Ricardo Energy & Environment, said: “We are very pleased to continue to support the UK electricity supply industry in delivering cutting edge innovation projects such as the Active Response project. They are learning from commissioning state-of-the-art software that processes network data to determine optimal running arrangements and gives distribution network operators and other stakeholders valuable insights into the offline trials before the project moves into the online trial stage as new controllable power electronic devices and switches are installed on the live network.”
Active Response also featured on the Institution of Engineering and Technology website here.
UK Power Networks trialled the use of contingency analysis and forecasting tools on the GB electricity distribution network. Contingency analysis is an advanced form of power flow modelling that can evaluate in near real-time the potential for adverse conditions to impact the distribution network. The KASM project was the first trial of contingency analysis on a coordinated and interfaced basis with the electricity transmission network.
The project established the necessary business processes and functional requirements to allow the exchange of real-time data between the UK Power Networks and national transmission system control rooms. In addition, we used an interactive software solution that will analyse and forecast power flows on the 400 kV, 132 kV and 33kV networks in East Kent and prepare contingency analysis studies within operational timeframes.
Following the transition of the solution to business as usual, UK Power Networks’ outage planners are using the forecasting solutions and as a result has already delivered 3000MWh of reduced generation curtailment to date.
Over the last 30 years, automatic Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) has generally been rolled out. SCADA has benefits that come from the ability to control switchgear from a central control room, starting with control and monitoring at grid, Extra High Voltage (EHV) and primary substation sites.
Monitoring the secondary, Low Voltage (LV) network has mostly been achieved through the roll out of Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) along with basic load monitoring. This has been driven by the need to be able to maintain a reliable and safe electricity network.
UK Power Networks successfully started monitoring the LV network from 2019, installing monitoring at distribution substations that gives deeper insight down to per phase per feeder of the network. Thanks to our industry-leading forecasting tool, we were able to identify areas on our LV networks where we expect more low carbon technologies to be adopted. We installed the monitoring in these priority areas to collect and transmit real-time data from the remote network substation to our network control room. This is enables us to respond to the changing energy landscape and have a better view of our network that we have not had before. The data and information gained will help us to inform smart grid developments including flexibility services and flexible connections that will generate new revenues streams for customers. The increase visibility will also enable us to efficiently connect more clean resources as we transition to Net Zero without overloading the network.
To further support LV visibility, UK Power Networks has been trialling VisNet Hub for load monitoring at 34 substations in the Carnaby Street South Group in LPN since 2019.
The VisNet Hub is a substation monitor that checks voltage and current data on LV circuits and provides insight on load, faults and network condition information. The device also provides notifications for reverse power flows, fuse blows, low voltage and pre-fault conditions on the network.
UK Power Networks is also trialling VisNet Hubs specifically for pre-fault and fault location use cases on the LV network. 150 VisNet devices were installed in our Purfleet, Croydon and Colchester operational areas in 2021. Early successes resulted in the scope of the trial being expanded to include up to 400 VisNet Hub devices in 2022; the additional devices are being installed in other operational areas. The trial is due to be completed in 2023. Learnings will be used to enhance the LV fault management processes across our network to ensure we continue to provide the most reliable service for our customers.
With the rise of renewables, decentralisation and the millions of connected devices on our network, it will take more than human intelligence to decarbonise the grid. To harness the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, which centres on digital advancements, it is important we collaborate and experiment with stakeholders to solve emerging challenges using the latest technology.
Detailed ‘visibility’ of our network is critical as we plan ahead to facilitate a low carbon, Net Zero future. As more renewable energy sources connect to the network and more people switch to electric vehicles and heating, having exact data means we can plan targeted investment in infrastructure across our network at the right time and in the right places.
We are exploring ways in which our data can be used to model demand and enhance the visibility of our Low Voltage (LV) network. In partnership with CK Delta we are developing a first of its kind machine learning based software tool that will generate greater low voltage (LV) network insights faster and cheaper compared to traditional methods of physical monitoring. The project is a key step to widening the flexibility market and building a smart grid that enables cleaner, greener energy resources to connect quicker and at lower cost.
We will also uncover the role and value of what third party data could be used to unlock greater insights and improve our services. For example we will be exploring the possibilities of obtaining data at scale from Distributed Energy Resources (DER), this could include data from renewable energy generators, electric vehicle charging point/ fleet managers, local heat network operators or community energy scheme owners, that we can use for forecasting. Forecasting allows us to plan ahead and invest strategically to facilitate the Net Zero carbon emissions revolution.
The project will also help us understand how the software can be put to best use, how it integrates with our other systems and devices, what additional data streams can be further explored and how it can deliver more value to our customers.
The operational fibre network covers approximately 200 substations, mostly 132kV, providing mission critical communications for network protection, SCADA, and operational data exchange. This network will be refreshed with additional optical fibre cables and the newest rented optical products. The benefits will be increased bandwidth and flexibility, enabling increased data flows for smart grid management and overlays of additional capabilities where required. Furthermore, by introducing rented optical products that have improved monitoring, detailed route maps, and fast priority restoration times, customers will benefit from improved network reliability and resilience. And finally, the refresh will also enable the network to be run at a lower cost, therefore reducing the overall cost to customers. Design work for the refresh will be carried out in 2021 and 2022, with the roll-out in 2022 to 2026.
Managing modern distribution systems, ensuring network reliability and resilience, supporting flexibility, and managing local supply and demand are just a few of the responsibilities that We are mastering.
At UK Power Networks, our control room deals with approximately eight million data exchange transactions corresponding to approximately 20.5 million data points on a daily basis. These figures are approximated to be in the range of 73 million transactions that correspond to 3 billion data points exchanged on daily basis in 2050 (after utilising data from smart meters and other data sources).
To be prepared for the future we are carrying out a research project that is aimed at exploring how modern control rooms, ANM systems, and a control room simulation environment will support in developing an optimum design for the future control room. The collaborative project is looking into the development of a digital twin of the future GB energy system to safely explore a wide range of network scenarios, simulate extreme network conditions, and research the potential control room utilisation and integration of new data sources and analytical techniques. The project is also exploring the requirements for secure real time data exchange between the control room and external entities, such as commercial market platforms and DER/LCT operators, along with exploring mechanisms for increasing the intelligence within the control room and evolve automation capabilities to a level by which automation would be delivered at scale and very quickly.
Optimise Prime is the world’s biggest trial of commercial EVs. It seeks to develop practical solutions to the challenges preventing fleet vehicle operators from going electric. It will develop technical and commercial solutions to save customer more than £200m by 2030 and enable the faster transition to electric for commercial fleets and private hire vehicle operators. The project is also playing a vital role in helping the UK meet its carbon reduction targets. The accelerated adoption of commercial EVs will save 2.7m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to London’s entire bus fleet running for four years or a full Boeing 747-400 travelling around the world 1,484 times. The flexibility provided by the project will also free up enough capacity on the electricity network to supply a million homes.
Optimise Prime is also trialling a flexible demand connection called a profiled connection as part of the Depot Trial. This extends the timed connection offering by providing up to 48 half-hourly time slots in which the maximum power requirement can be varied. This will allow customers who have flexible loads – such as electric cars in the case of Optimise Prime – to control the imported power by using ‘behind the meter’ smart control solutions. Customers will follow an agreed profile which will result in the increased utilisation of existing network capacity, avoiding costly reinforcements and resulting in quicker connections for customers. LV monitoring equipment is being installed at Royal Mail depots and associated secondary substations participating in the Depot Trial to allow active monitoring of adherence to an agreed profile by the ANM System.
UK Power Networks has upgraded digital communications across 16,000 electricity substations to enhance network visibility and reliability, while preparing for a future with more smart connections and flexibility services. Engineers have rolled out new 4G mobile network routers which enable remote communications and control of electricity substations across the South East and East of England to maintain reliable supplies for millions of homes and businesses.
The new infrastructure maintains modern communications used by automatic power restoration systems and allows engineers to remotely control local network equipment. The routers send signals between network control systems and 11,000-volt secondary substations, to restore customers’ power supplies quickly in the event of a fault.
While its primary purpose is supporting electricity network resilience, the communications will also enable UK Power Networks to connect more smart flexibility services and Electric Vehicles in the future, supporting transition to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. UK Power Networks trained 78 employees in new skills to support the roll-out, enabling engineers with basic computer knowledge to replace the equipment, without specialist SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) engineering skills.
The communications technology that will continue to support fast, resilient and secure wireless connectivity for digital communications across UK Power Networks regions, while enabling Britain’s biggest network operator to prepare for the future. Delivering these systems supports the reliable operation of UK Power Networks’ electricity system for millions of homes and businesses, ensuring the network continues to perform at its best.
New digital technologies are transforming our business. The amount of data we collect and utilise is rapidly expanding as we equip our workforce with smart devices to augment data capture in the field, and as we extend smart metering and remote monitoring devices across every part of our networks. Data is allowing us to gain actionable insights like never before, making our business more effective, efficient so we can better serve our customers.
We’re about the start the first trial of using disaggregated smart meter data in the UK, having gained permission from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to improve network visibility. We are also increasingly opening up our network and asset data, providing full access and the ability for third party stakeholders and customers to access, use and consume our data Data transparency is increasingly important to realise the full potential value of our data and in facilitate the full potential of Smart Grid development.
Data and analytics sits at the core of our Digitalisation Strategy & Action plan published in December 2020. This plan details our holistic, stakeholder driven approach to digital and outlines a number of the developments and activities we are undertaking to ensure we are at the forefront in delivering differentiating data enabled services.
We continue to develop and implement various advanced analytical techniques while advancing our data engineering and governance practices. We use cloud based infrastructure and solutions to deliver reliable, highly accessible and interoperable data to both internal and external data consumers. We are leading in collaborative efforts across and beyond the energy sector in order to ensure we are at the forefront of the digital evolution.
An example of this is our participation in the London Data Commission and associated work with the Mayor of London’s Electric Vehicle Taskforce where we, as one of 16 industry leaders developed a delivery plan for electric vehicle infrastructure for 2025. As part of the electric vehicle (EV) taskforce, we developed a constraint map showing where the cheapest and quickest locations are likely to be to connect public chargers on the low voltage networks. You can view the map here.
We are also leading participants in the National Digital Twin Climate Resilience Demonstrator Project (CReDo); which aims to demonstrate the value of the concept of a National Digital Twin in the arena of climate change. The project aims to look specifically at the impact of extreme weather, in particular flooding, on energy, water and telecoms networks and how those who own and operate them can plan to mitigate the effect of flooding on network performance and service delivery to customers. CReDo will be one of the first climate change adaptation digital twins; showing how greater access to the right information can help to manage the impact of climate change.
We are also working with Google Deep Cloud to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, combined with optical recognition to automate the digital conversion of legacy, non-digital network records. Through the application of this approach, we can unlock an otherwise constrained source of rich information about our network and assets, utilising that data to provide digital solutions across our asset management and operational activities.
We continue to advance how we openly publish asset and network data in response to the recommendations first laid out by the Energy Data Taskforce in 2019.
Building upon our existing Open Data Portal, we are now in the process of implementing an advanced data portal, which provides greater sophistication to how we share and publish data to external consumers.
Data on the portal is published with standardised metadata to provide valuable contextual information, informing appropriate use. It also presented in range of configurable formats (e.g. tabular, graphical, geospatial, etc.) and both downloadable in various formats or consumable through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This allows data to be accessed and utilised by a broad range of stakeholders.
To inform the development of this and other open data services, we are collaborating with the Open Data Institute and Regen to engage with stakeholders to establish an unrivalled and comprehensive understanding of data consumer needs, use cases and value propositions. This has been achieved through a range of digitally enabled engagement techniques, resulting in the publication of the research. We shaped our Open Data strategy based on stakeholder needs and also held an Open Data event with 198 interested stakeholders, such as technology providers, universities and local authorities, to understand which datasets they want and how they want to access them.
The portal was launched in September 2021 and can be found here.
The portal brings together our own datasets with thousands of other data sources, providing unparalleled access to one of the biggest datasets on the UK’s electricity network. In designing the portal we applied learnings from French utility Enedis via the International Utility Working Group, and co-designed standards and processes with our stakeholders to ensure it meets their needs. To provide transparency, we partnered with Open Innovations to develop an enhanced data triage approach to guide what data can and cannot be opened up, and shared our assessments on the portal. We are applying best practice to deepen our expertise in Open Data. We are the first DNO to become a full member of the Open Data Institute, who we partnered with to develop a Data Literacy development plan to deepen our maturity in managing data. We engaged Open Data Manchester and the World Bank Group to ensure our industry-first Open Data Principles would reflect best practice from beyond our sector.
The Energy Data Taskforce recommends better data transparency and access will be essential to modernise the UK’s energy system and facilitate Net Zero. UK Power Networks’ distributed energy resource (DER) customers also asked us for better visibility of network data beyond static maps to locate the most affordable points to connect.
We engaged with over 60 stakeholders including DER customers, ESO and academics to co-develop and trial a dynamic interactive dashboard of detailed real-time network information. Based on DER community needs, we released over 200 data points, from network frequency, voltage, volumes of active and reactive power, to generation connected to the network and generation mix.
Customers asked to go deeper into the network than other DNOs, so we made data available at Grid Supply Point level, rather than licence area level, to support efficient planning of connections and operations.
Following positive feedback from flexibility developers, DER operators and academics, with 97% interested in seeing it being developed further. Based on user feedback, we plan to go even deeper into our network in upcoming releases of the dashboard to open up data at lower voltage levels, add power quality data, along with geographic as and demographic context to locate the most affordable points to connect.
UK Power Networks designed a tool to bring together data from across the business that enabled us to better identify and prioritise areas for vegetation management. Through advanced data blending techniques discrete systems together with open source technologies we undertook a multi-variate analysis and balanced scorecard approach to the datasets demonstrated below.
In the past year, we have invested £19million in tree trimming to keep branches away from power lines and help prevent outages for communities. To ensure this was being spent efficiently our analytics team designed a new computerised tool for tree-cutting colleagues to best decide when, where and how to clear trees and bushes away from power lines. This use of software calculates a risk ranking for each tree, in terms of the priority it should be given for trimming for maximum benefit, which also helps ensure no trees are cut unnecessarily. It takes into account different varieties’ growth rates, tree ages and locations.
This enabled us to create an optimisation engine for tree cutting at a more granular level and update our cutting plans for 2021 to incorporate, 14 new high risk regions that were previously not identified. We have also improved fault protection to 10% more customers than our existing tree cutting programme. Into 2022, the data analysis has already resulted in fewer power cuts for customers, with the combined benefit of saving 350 trees from felling (equal to 75 tonnes of CO2) for communities as the UK faces climate change and strives towards Net Zero. It has also helped the company reduce the number of power lines damaged by trees and branches, particularly during storms, and protected an estimated 9,000 customers from potential power cuts.
Alex Mahon, who heads the company’s analytics team, said: “Our focus is always to collaborate across the business to deliver both change and lasting value. This tool adds to the resilience of our electricity networks, reduces power cuts, and also ensures that the environmental impact of tree trimming is also lessened by directing work to where it is most needed.”
This project was completed in house, at no additional cost to customers or the business.
Distributed Future Energy Scenarios are a series of geographically specific forecasts designed to help outline different, plausible pathways for the future of energy through to 2050.
These forecasts are collected into four scenario worlds, with varying degrees of societal change and speeds of decarbonisation, designed to cover a variety of energy pathways.
In developing our latest DFES, we consulted with a range of local government stakeholders, including councils and local authorities from within our region, to discuss their plans for decarbonisation. We then worked with the Open Data Institute to develop and interactive geospatial interface to facilitate the exploration of the DFES based on varying parameters and timescales, also publishing the underlying data under a Collective Commons open licence. In doing so, we have provided DFES consumers with the most advanced way of exploring and understanding the future energy world, whilst also giving them access to the same raw data to facilitate their own supplementary analysis.
Smart meters are playing a crucial role in Great Britain’s transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, helping to meet its long-term challenges of ensuring an affordable, secure and sustainable energy supply. Smart meters are allowing consumers to monitor their electricity consumption more effectively and make smart choices in managing their usage.
The technology is also presenting significant opportunities for us and other DNOs to introduce more sophisticated energy management systems that will pave the way for Net Zero.
Smart meter installation volumes during the 2021/22 regulation year increased such that 48% of UK Power Networks’ domestic customers now have a smart meter installed. This compares to 44% in the previous regulatory year, where this equates to 4.1 million smart meters installed.
This year, we have engaged across the industry to play a pivotal role in helping energy retailers meet their smart meter roll-out target, where Ofgem has set an obligation on suppliers to have all installs completed by December 2025. Our engagement resulted in three clear requests for support: set clear service level agreements, reduce volume of customer handoffs, and foster consistency across network operators.
- Created bespoke supplier and customer satisfaction frameworks specifically for smart meter interventions so that we can measure and monitor our service.
- Developed a user-friendly weblink shortcut allowing customers to upload meter box photographs in order to reduce handoffs and visits and to enable remote clarification of specifications prior to engineer attendance.
- Offered our Smart Meter Manager to chair the ENA Service Termination Issues Group, consisting of representatives from all DNOs to foster smart metering consistency across networks.
- Improved our customer satisfaction score of 94% for customers having a smart meter as a result of reduced hand-offs, and improved electricity supplier business to business satisfaction score to 84%, up from 74% the previous regulatory year.
For more information, see our full report here.
With the rise of renewables, decentralisation and the millions of connected devices on our network, it will take more than human intelligence to decarbonise the grid. To harness the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution it is important we collaborate and experiment with stakeholders to solve emerging challenges using the latest digital technology.
Moreover, stakeholders asked us to deliver data on our low voltage network faster and cheaper to support the growth of residential flexibility to enable better management of EV and heat pump loads ahead of network reinforcement, keeping the costs down.
Building on innovation from the telecoms industry, we launched a groundbreaking trial with machine learning experts and data scientists to co-develop a data-driven model providing a predicted measurement of low voltage network demand with 75% accuracy, enabling customers to connect faster and cheaper and supporting network reliability in the transition to electrified transport and heating.
Envision will unlock network visibility at 69,000+ substations, saving £4m in network reinforcement and avoiding 597 tCO2 from reduced journeys.
We are also exploring how third party data could enhance and complement data-driven models to advance our visibility of our low voltage network and improve accuracies in predictions, helping us to plan ahead and facilitate a lower carbon future for all. To uncover the role and value of third party data, we are exploring the possibilities of obtaining data at scale from data producers and providers. This could include data from renewable energy generators, electric vehicle charging point/fleet managers, local heat network operators or community energy scheme owners.
Digitised and vectorised maps are a fundamental enabler of enhanced customer service, unlocking better data quality, better forecasting and modelling, a more accurate understanding of network assets and faster fault-fixing. Customers and colleagues asked for urgent access to key asset data sets, but traditional vectorisation is limited, takes several years and costs millions. We wanted to think beyond the traditional approach to deliver benefits faster and at lower cost.
Through horizon scanning of artificial intelligence (AI) advancements in other sectors, our analytics team spotted the opportunity to use image recognition and advanced analytics to automate significant parts of the vectorisation process. Instead of humans retracing and copying data to a digital system, this new approach uses AI to extract images and data from our raster maps at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional vectorisation, without human error. Working with Google Cloud we’re revolutionising hand-drawn maps of electricity cables in a move that could benefit the global utility industry.
Utility firms currently have to manually scan maps of underground equipment to get electronic versions and each has an extensive library of maps to update. If successful, the collaboration with Google could lead to large chunks of the task finishing three years faster than was previously thought possible – and up to ten times cheaper. For UK Power Networks, the AI is already cutting 20,000 hours’ manual work down to 15 minutes.
All this means we are able to provide better, faster services to the 15,000-plus customers a year who apply for upgraded electricity connections when for example they need to connect renewable energy sites or Electric Vehicle charging hubs. On top of this, we are making the digital maps freely available to the industry, meaning energy battery operators, local authorities or energy aggregators can see where to plan new equipment, and bid for flexible energy market contracts.
The customer satisfaction predictor tool kit has allowed us to implement numerous improvements to our engagement with stakeholders. Examples include:
- Improving the frequency and content of our messaging during a supply interruption.
- Creating a Machine Learning (ML) algorithm that improves the accuracy of our ‘Estimated Time of Restoration’ by more than 50%.
- Creating a Machine Learning (ML) algorithm that detects what our customers really care about and guides customer service agents on a case by case basis on how to do even better.
- Identifying key features of our externally facing website, which we continue to work to improve.
In 2022, the Institute of Customer Service ranked the top UK companies for customer service. UK Power Networks was delighted to be named at number one. Customers rated UK Power Networks highly for strong communication, trust, being open and transparent, having helpful and competent people and an easy-to-use website.
Overhead Line Assessment Using Panoramic Images is a project in which we tested the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using panoramic images, compared to repeated line patrols on foot. The project was funded by £165,500 from Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance. We worked with OniGroup to count how many of our 700,000+ wooden electricity support poles in the South East and East of England are sufficiently covered by Google Street View to allow their condition to be assessed from a desktop.
Where images were not available from the roadside, inspectors will strap on a backpack with a telescopic lens that captures 360-degree video or still imagery. We found that 52% of all UK Power Networks’ poles were available in Google Street view, which exceeded our initial expectation of 40%. Of these images, slightly more than half were taken in the previous six years. Only a very small fraction had been taken in the previous year. We successfully worked with a third-party service provider, Captura Surveying and Inspections, to capture panoramic images of poles in areas without Google Streetview coverage. We created an update to the internal GIS platform to include the appropriate Google Street View Images. This enables users to search for a pole using its unique ID and view the available image for the pole. In the future, ‘image recognition’ could be applied to images to undertake inspection checks.
To find out more about this project, visit its dedicated page.
CNAIM modelling data flow has made UK Power Networks an industry leader in asset risk modelling with Asset Risk & Prioritisation (ARP) models and its modelling framework. We have been chairing the working group to develop CNAIM with all UK distribution network operators. Sustainable solution has been now developed and deployed for our ARP risk modelling.
High voltage Underground Cable Research is using data to prioritise the replacement of assets that are nearing the end of their useful life. The Cable Prioritisation Tool that we developed provides health indices for underground cables. It enables us to identify high priority cables that require early intervention so that we can optimise our investment strategy and maintain supply security at the lowest possible cost to customers.
To assure we can deliver essential services to our customers, even at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak we rapidly developed a sophisticated Monte Carlo Simulation. This used the latest research and early data from China and Italy to assess the impact that COVID-19 was likely to have on various UK Power Networks key workers well ahead of the virus spreading in the UK and the rest of the industry. This informed decisions on prioritising planned vs unplanned work during lockdown and to track progress in eliminating the backlog of planned jobs that built up.
Faster electricity restoration has been prioritised for water infrastructure sites, to help make sure people are not left without water for long, at the same time as a power cut. Even a momentary power loss at a water company’s operational site, could affect the water system for the area for several hours or lead to sewer flooding of the wastewater system.
UK Power Networks collaborated with Thames Water to compare more than 10,000 data points from business systems that showed where power cuts happened, together with root causes. This enabled UK Power Networks to mark 2,269 additional operational Thames Water sites on its records, plus a further 5,566 other water utility sites. Now, if a power cut affects a remote site, electricity crews will know water and wastewater services could be affected, so they can respond accordingly.
UK Power Networks is the largest electricity network operator in the UK, serving 8.4 million customers, including water and wastewater treatment works and pumping stations in London, the South East and East of England. The aim is to extend the collaboration with Thames to other regional water companies across the South East and East of England.
Justin Camis, energy engineering project manager at Thames Water, said: “Stable power is critical to maintain supplies of water and wastewater services to households and businesses. We really value how UK Power Networks has worked with us to better understand the essential service we provide, including proactively involving us in prioritising sites for reconnection to minimise the impact on customers.”
Customers rely on us to keep their lights on. We’re proud that London is the most reliable of the UK’s 14 distribution network licence areas. The improvements we have made our networks since 2010/11 have resulted in a significant reduction in both the frequency and duration of power cuts throughout our networks, making us the UK’s most reliable electricity network operator. We have developed ever-more sophisticated ways to prevent faults occurring and speed up the repair process. Automation and remote control have been major contributors to these improvements.
The two ways in which network reliability is measured globally include SAIDI and SAIFI. SAIFI is the average number of interruptions a customer would experience. SAIDI is the average length of time a customer would be without power, for power cuts lasting three minutes or longer.
Our performance in numbers:
- SAIFI – 0.15 interruptions per connected customer – Our power cut performance improvement means customers now see an interruption on average once every 6.6 years.
- SAIDI – 13.89 minutes lost per connected customer – A customer connected to our network will be off supply on average for just over 14 minutes.
As the industry leader in HV automation systems, we wanted to develop similar automation at the EHV level. That’s why we developed with General Electric new automation logic to apply to EHV outages. After a trial in Q1 2018, this is being rolled out across all compatible EPN and SPN primary substations, currently covering 72%. The new technology has helped us ensure we deliver the best service to our customers. It has restored 148,000 customers connection in under 3 minutes, saving on average of 4.7 minutes of customer interruptions per 100 customers.
To reduce the impact of transient faults we use three types of reclosing devices on the low voltage distribution network: ALVIN reclosers (provided by EA Technology), Weezaps and Bidoyngs (provided by Kelvatek).
These devices are installed on distribution boards in place of fuses and automatically restore supplies within a three-minute window, after transient faults. This avoids sending an engineer to site and improves the quality of supply for our customers, with fewer interuptions and fewer customer minutes lost.In the last three regulatory years) these devices contributed to 2.1 CI/100c and 3.6 CML/cc savings on average per year.
To support our operation of the ANM schemes in the south coast we have undertaken exploratory work on short-term forecasting. The work consisted of training machine-learning algorithms, such as random forests and Long Short Term Memory models, on real measured data from the UK Power Networks PI historian system, and weather observations from the met office. Weather forecasts were used from dynamic services such as tomorrow.io which allowed for more granular forecasts set at the exact location of the site. We found that the accuracy of the forecast could be improved over a 5 day ahead period for all generators in the regions as well as demand substations. Our preliminary findings fed into a report by the ENA Open Networks group, WS1B P3 Operational Forecasting. Read the report here.
As a leader in the transition to becoming a DSO, we can make use of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) owned by our customers, such as rooftop solar panels, to run our networks more efficiently without having to build expensive new infrastructure. We pay for these ‘Smart Grid’ services, offering customers the opportunity to access new sources of revenue.
That’s why we developed the world-leading Flexible Distributed Generation. Beginning as an innovation project called Flexible Plug & Play, it has transitioned into business as usual and has been successfully rolled out across the whole of our network. It has saved our customers more than £70m since 2015 and saved 20,394 tonnes of CO2, which is the equivalent environmental benefit of planting 250,000 trees.
To facilitate the integration of these resources on our network, we have made our products simple, transparent and accessible. For example, our collaboration with technology start-up Piclo has continued, co-developing their online platform, making it easier for anyone to register and offer their assets to help us run our networks more efficiently. In 2018/19, we became the first UK network operator to make the commitment to market test all remaining RIIO-ED1 load-related reinforcement, aiming to procure at least 200MW from customers’ DER by 2023. Piclo is now used by all DNOs across the country, allowing greater transparency and opportunity for customers to access new sources of revenue.
We also lowered the capacity threshold so that small domestic generators could participate, and we extended the length of our contracts to give customers greater confidence in the return on their investment. The result was an unprecedented 6,000% increase in the number of customers registering their generation assets on Piclo, providing more resource for us to manage our networks more efficiently for all of our customers.
James Johnston, Chief Executive of Piclo, said:
“UK Power Networks was the first DNO to recognise the value in working with an independent market platform to lower barriers and increase transparency for customers. UKPN have shown real leadership and, as a result, we are seeing exciting levels of participation on the platform, including the hard-to-reach, such as community groups.”
We also built, at it’s time, the largest battery in Europe in our Smarter Network Storage innovation project. SNS proved, for the first time, that commercial storage can potentially transform the energy grid and play a major role in the transition towards a low-carbon economy. SNS was the first grid-scale battery storage project in the UK and the only one of its kind currently operating on the energy network when it was developed. It proved, for the first time, that energy storage has the potential to be both technically and commercially viable. The two-year trial of the 6MW/10MWh “big battery” – which is the size of three tennis courts and can store enough electricity to power 6,000 homes for 1.5 hours at peak times* – began in 2014.
Our ground-breaking research didn’t stop at large scale batteries, because we knew that smaller-scale storage had an important role to play too. Our innovation project Domestic Energy Storage and Control (DESC) demonstrated that domestic energy storage coupled with solar panels on people’s homes also had a role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. Working with Imperial College London, we proved it is possible for network operators to influence how and when clusters of domestic batteries release their energy onto the network.
This research, which began in 2016, paid off just two years later when we became the first ever network operator in the UK to sign a contract to procure flexibility services from a ‘virtual power station’ backed by domestic batteries and rooftop solar panels. The fleet of batteries in 40 homes across the London Borough of Barnet, North London, were to be remotely controlled to combine the output from domestic solar panels and ensure they are fully charged and ready for the weekday evening peak demand. The flexibility provider was recruited to offer the services following a competitive bidding process.
To help customers engage in our flexibility market, we have produced a number of resources to make it easier for distributed energy resources to connect to our network. You can view the full set of resources on our dedicated DER page here.
New state-of-the-art equipment being installed under London’s entertainment district will ensure safe and reliable power supplies for years to come.
Engineers from UK Power Networks are working to finish a £16.2 million upgrade to an electricity substation hidden beneath the gardens and iconic ticket office at the London landmark of Leicester Square.
The third of three large transformers – devices which step down the power voltage so electricity can be safely delivered to local properties – recently arrived on site and is being installed to meet greater energy demand in the area.
The underground substation was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1991 and after regularly maintaining the infrastructure for three decades, UK Power Networks is replacing key equipment with cleaner, greener models so it’s fit to support the local economy for years to come.
The team has been working in consultation with stakeholders, local businesses, and community groups, to minimise disruption during the essential work.
New fibre optic cables are helping make electricity supplies even more reliable by pinpointing potential faults before they happen.
In 2022, the UK’s first-ever trial of fibre optic temperature-sensing cables has proved that engineers can pinpoint the exact location of potential faults and make essential repairs before customer supplies are interrupted.
UK Power Networks has operated the technology in two North Surrey substations for the last 18 months. It is trialling the deployment of highly accurate distributed temperature sensing equipment, which measures temperature changes along the length of a fibre-optic cable wound around electrical equipment such as circuit breakers. The condition of the network asset can thereby be continually monitored by its temperature. This allows UK Power Networks to proactively address and repair any hot spot issues before they cause faults.
The project found that the cables can detect heat differences down to as little as half a degree Celsius for every 50cm of cable. This level of accuracy produces data points that enable engineers to pinpoint the exact location of the network which needs attention.
In 2019, we started our High Voltage Feeder Monitoring project in collaboration with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and working closely with two suppliers – Lord Consulting and Nortech. The project started in 2019 and will run until 2022.
The project is testing the functionality of a network monitoring device (Distribution Fault Anticipation, DFA-Plus) alongside other network monitoring equipment such as fault passage indicators. This will prove if it is an effective way to identify and locate network anomalies on High Voltage feeders before they turn into faults. If successful, the project will allow us to maintain the network in a way that reduces the number of faults that occur therefore improving the service we provide customers.
The DFA-plus is an on-line monitoring device typically installed at a substation and used to monitor outgoing feeders from the substation. The device collects and analyses real time data and determines whether it is normal. If it isn’t, the device then matches the activity with the most likely type of fault that could occur and reports its findings via a web-based interface and email.
This project will help us to identify faults that could occur on the network as well as provide accurate location of where they are and target repairs on the network for efficiently whilst providing better service for our customers.
Our Real Time Fault Level Monitoring builds on the high voltage feeder-monitoring project to identify faults more accurately and prevent customers loosing supply. Determining the fault current on the network is key in order to select equipment ratings, protect equipment and connect Distributed Energy Resources. Currently, fault current is calculated from modelling and using know IEC and IEEE standards rather than measurements. With over one hundred locations across out networks that need fault level management, we are collaborating with SPEN and Outram Technologies to develop and trial a prototype Real Time Fault Level Monitoring (RTFLM) solution.
The real time monitoring will use inductor load banks to create artificial switching or disturbances and therefore we will receive results that are more accurate in less than a minute.
During the first stage of the trial successfully measured fault levels on a secondary substation and an 11kV substation. Stage 2 will trial the solution on a number on different sites to prove the device works in a wider range of scenarios. If successful, the solution will help us plan and target reinforcement of the networks as well as Distribute Energy Resource connections more efficiently. We will also be able to planning for outages and have real time operation of customer supply restoration meaning, if customers ever loose supply we will be able to fix the fault faster.
During the first stage of the trial successfully measured fault levels on a secondary substation and an 11kV substation. Stage 2 will trial the solution on a number on different sites to prove the device works in a wider range of scenarios. If successful, the solution will help us plan and target reinforcement of the networks as well as Distribute Energy Resource connections more efficiently. We will also be able to planning for outages and have real time operation of customer supply restoration meaning, if customers ever loose supply we will be able to fix the fault faster.
Circuit See aims to demonstrate and trial a transmission level solution from Reactive Technologies. This will prove that it is an accurate, scalable and cost effective model for deploying fault level monitoring at sites where fault levels have exceeded a 95% limit.
The solution is first of its kind and has never been used in the UK at distribution level. Circuit See uses active and passive disturbance events to measure fault levels and combines measurements in strategic points to determine the real fault levels for the entire network. That means we won’t need to have measurement devices in all substations.
Results from phase one, which took place in 2020, showed that the solution is a robust and effective way to monitor fault level across the distribution network. We also gained an initial understanding of how to deeply the solution. If further trials are successful, it could also prevent costly network reinforcements thanks to the release of fault level capacity.
MILES is a system which aims to give us quicker and easier location of faults along our feeders. It uses low voltage power quality sensors, voltage drop location algorithms and cloud computing to detect, locate and classify permanent and transient faults. The system aims to provide sufficient prefault information to enable proactive asset intervention to prevent the fault from happening.
It means we will be able to find faults faster and deliver better performance to our customers.
This technology was successfully developed and rolled out by Hydro-Quebec in Canada and is now being industrialised in partnership with CGI. We are currently trialling the technology and if proven successful from a technical and commercial perspective, we will deploy this on our network at scale so as to reduce the CI and CML impact and improve the service to our customers. It could even lead to us preventing faults before they happen in the first place.
Unified Protection is trialling a new substation centralised protection system. Our project method will verify and validate the use of this system for the protection of future substations. Additionally, the future requirements of distribution substations will be developed and aligned with the wider DSO strategy as part of this project.
Instead of using local protection relays on each substation bay as the main source of protection, a central system is being used within a substation. This system can be modified and upgraded via software and does not require new plant or the introduction of new functions or bays. For the purpose of the trial demonstration, the system has been installed in parallel with the existing protection scheme.
This is the first full IEC 61850 substation solution with centralised protection and control implemented by a DNO in GB and among the first three in the world.
We are designing Smart Cable Guard (SCG) equipment manufactured by DNVGL to detects and locate partial discharge (PD) from our cables that occurs because of weak spots in the cable insulation or joints. PD is most often an indication the cable could fail in the future. The SCG system can detect PD activity or weak spots and pinpoint their location with an accuracy of 1% of the cable length being monitored by the system. This means we can prevent or minimise preventing the impact of faults. This fault prevention will also reduce both CIs and CMLs and allow us to save customers money while being more efficient.
We are currently undertaking site selection and surveys before we rollout installation of the equipment and commence trials that will run for 18 months.
Distributed Energy Resource Integration
We have established our credibility as the utility that can deliver change by connecting unprecedented volumes of renewable energy at record pace. As of June 2022, we have connected almost 8.3GW of large (>1MW) scale distributed generation to our networks, with an additional 10GW of accepted capacity in the pipeline. We have a total of 410MW of battery storage capacity connected to our network as of June 2022, and over the first half of 2022, there was 1.3GW of new accepted capacity, in which 900MW and 350MW was solar and battery storage respectively. In total, this means accepted capacity of solar, battery storage and other renewables is 9.2GW and accounts for 88% of the overall accepted capacity.
In the seven years between 2011 and 2018, more than 7GW of renewable energy was connected directly to our networks. That’s almost the same as the UK’s entire nuclear power output, in a fraction of the time and cost it typically takes to build one of them, and we took it in our stride. The volume of distributed generation connections enquiries rose almost tenfold from 600 to more than 8,000 in just five years. We connected 6MW of storage capacity at a site in Leighton Buzzard in 2014, with an additional 410MW connected since and 3.3GW storage capacity accepted to connect in the future. Despite the huge increase in volumes, we still achieved a customer satisfaction score of 93.13%.
We publish an embedded capacity register (ECR) which comprises connected and accepted to connect generation projects greater than 1MW. Details include MPAN, site name and address, location details and technology size and type. The register comprises over 1000 entries – more than 6900 of which are already connected with a combined export capacity of over 8,000MW. Until 2021, the ECR was known as the system wide resource register.
It has now been enhanced to include details of reinforcement for accepted to connect projects as well as additional data. This new information allows all stakeholders to have full visibility of connected projects as well as the size of upcoming projects in the pipeline.
Despite this accelerated access to distribution networks, our ongoing engagement highlighted that storage developers were facing lead times of 5+ years to connect at distribution level due to upstream transmission network constraints. We are targeting an additional 1.7GW of storage capacity and have developed a solution to accelerate 400MW to connect five years faster so far by working through the issues at an operational level through workshops and bilateral engagements. In addition, 71% of our awarded flexibility contracts were met by EV and home battery users, unlocking £22m of value for these domestic customers. Over £100m potential customer savings could be realised by 2050 thanks to our reactive power marketplace while generating additional DER revenue, unlocking the potential for 1.5GW additional clean generation in the South East.
DER customers told us the cost of connecting to our networks can sometimes make their projects unviable, so we worked to make it cheaper.
In 2018, we undertook several innovations to reduce the amount of infrastructure we need to build, saving customers’ money and allowing cheaper connections to our networks.
- Collaboration: We collaborated with international partners to look for new technologies that unlock existing assets. We are now installing the world’s first load balancer at a distribution network level. This advanced technology is now being deployed in Colchester, East England, enabling an additional 95MW for customer connections and saving customers £8m.
- Multi-targeted approach: We created a programme of works to combine advanced analytics, monitoring and targeted network upgrades aimed at releasing more capacity at lowest cost. This programme has led to the release of 182MW in our southern network, SPN, and 327MW in our eastern network, EPN for additional connections.
In total, these initiatives have created over 3GW of new capacity (assuming the average cost of new renewable generation capacity is £1m per MW). This in turn could allow £500m of additional investment of renewable generation into our networks and even greater value for money for our customers.
In 2019 we partnered with leading companies from the UK, US and Australia in scaling up our active network management system. This is an advanced digital platform that allows our network to be more efficient, freeing up capacity for our customers and enabling additional connections without costly and time-consuming reinforcement.
We are now the first DNO in the country to begin rolling this out across the entirety of our network. These initiatives, coupled with our long-term regional development plans, have enabled us to significantly increase network capacity and provide the new lower cost connection offerings that our customers asked us for.
- More than 3GW additional capacity
- Up to £500m of investment opportunity for local generation
- Offering more choice and new products to customers
Across our network, we’ve connected more than 170,000 generators, including enough renewable energy to power 3.5m homes. In certain areas, such a large volume of distributed generation creates constraints on capacity, voltage or reverse power flows. Traditionally, this meant that new generators looking to connect would need to spend time and money on physical network upgrades to remove those constraints before they could connect.
Flexible connections allow owners of distributed generation to connect cheaper and faster by removing the upfront cost and time of network reinforcement. All generators need to do is agree to temporarily reduce the amount of energy they export at certain times to keep our network within its operational limits.
Our world-leading Distributed Energy Resources Management System (DERMS) completes forecasting, power flow, fault and contingency analysis to optimise the network. DERMS will enable over 500MW of Distributed Energy Resources (DER), mostly renewable energy like wind and solar, in total to connect to the network cheaper and faster. That’s enough capacity to power more than a quarter of a million homes without the need to spend time and money building new electricity infrastructure. So far, UK Power Networks has connected over 117MW of generation from 2014 using the DERMS system. It has saved our customers more than £70m to date, since 2015 and saved 20,394 tonnes of CO2, which is the equivalent environmental benefit of planting 250,000 trees. With a healthy pipeline of over 3.5GW progressing to connection, over the next two years, we are expecting to more than triple the existing savings, even if 10% of the connections pipeline materialised.
We are scaling up our reactive power marketplace capability, targeting customer savings of at least £100m by 2050 whilst enabling more renewable generation to connect. In 2020, we piloted a world-first reactive power marketplace to manage transmission voltage constraints, supporting system stability whilst reducing curtailment of renewable generation. Engagement with the DER market and ESO helped us tackle the practical issues and develop the market rules needed to balance commercial and technical constraints in real-time. We are now embedding reactive power capabilities into our Distributed Energy Resource Management System and implementing signals with customers receiving new flexible connections to enable reactive power capability in readiness for when the ESO rolls out the service.
Customers don’t always need a connection which is available for 24 hrs per day at full capacity. Timed or profiled connections can, in the right circumstances, provide cheaper connection solutions for customers, especially in areas where there is a lot of renewable energy.
Timed connections allow customers to connect cheaper, using energy within two or three different daily time windows. Profiled connections could have up to 48 different half-hourly periods where customers can, for example, charge electric vehicles.
Some London bus garages are already benefitting from quicker and cheaper connections thanks to timed connections. Profiled connections were also trialled with Royal Mail vans at depots as part of the Optimise Prime project, to keep the connection cost as cheap as possible in Royal Mail fleet electrification. Having proven successful and demonstrating the value, we will offer profiled connections to our customers as BAU in 2023.
Power Potential is a ground-breaking collaboration between National Grid ESO (NGESO), UK Power Networks and generators on the south coast distribution network. It is a world-first demonstration of a regional reactive power market. Through Power Potential, NGESO can access DER resources to provide additional operational tools for managing voltage and thermal transmission constraints.
It is also a UK-first demonstration of a Distribution System Operator facilitating distributed energy resources (DER) to provide dynamic voltage control services.
In 2019, UK Power Networks tested and delivered the initial live DERMS system, signed up five customers (battery, solar and wind) to deliver 150 Mvar of service and completed laboratory testing with five DER controllers. We then commissioned five customers in 2020. In partnership with National Grid ESO, between October 2020 and March 2021, Power Potential completed its live trials of the end-end service. The DER declared their availability and bid prices day-ahead, National Grid ESO made its procurement decision for a ‘virtual power plant’ of DER, and then DERMS enabled the service delivery with the DER.
The trials successfully proved that the concept works and identified several areas for improvement as well as considerations for how it could be made business as usual. Learnings from the project are also informing National Grid ESO’s work on the future of balancing services and reactive markets. The partners in the project are continuing to use the learnings and solutions from the trial in an extension of the Regional Development Programme partnership between National Grid ESO and UK Power Networks. In July 2021 as part of our initial business plan for RIIO-ED2 (the next regulatory period for electricity distribution) we committed to work with NGESO to deliver a business as usual Power Potential offering by 2028.
Our Flexible Connections enable cheaper and faster connections for generators. Generally a ‘last in, first out’ (LIFO) rule applies to curtail output when there are capacity restraints.
Energy Exchange has developed a commercial design for a more efficient and cost-effective approach – market-based curtailment trading mechanism (MBCM). The scale of benefits depends on the participant mix, but our core simulation of trading shows a 43% reduction in total curtailment costs.
As well as reducing total costs due to curtailment, MBCM creates new market and revenue opportunities for the additional participants in constraint management – generators on conventional firm connections who are not normally curtailed, and demand customers including batteries willing to increase demand to prevent curtailment. A MBCM could signal where there should be future distribution network reinforcement to reduce curtailment, and encourage battery storage providers to locations where they can absorb and avoid curtailment for renewable generators.
We set out to quantify how MBCM could reduce generators’ total lost revenue due to curtailment. The project has identified three sources of enabled value:
- Generators trade distribution curtailment to an efficient total cost and volume.
- Demand customers, including batteries, increase demand to prevent distribution curtailment
- Generation and demand customers on the distribution network participate in managing curtailment on the transmission network.
We identified that half of planned future generation connection capacity is earmarked for flexible connections, so the total curtailment is expected to increase. The annual benefits from MBCM as opposed to LIFO range from £6,500-£27,000/MW of flexible connection capacity, with individual benefits highly dependent on the similarity of the local generation mix.
We presented the Energy Exchange concept and early insights to flexible connection customers at our customer forum, and to other key stakeholders including electricity networks, Ofgem, BEIS, DER and market platform providers. We have built their feedback into the approach. We have now scoped the next stage of contract, system and process development to apply Energy Exchange to planned outages in our South Eastern Power Networks licence area, moving towards Business as Usual application in 2022.
Accelerated Loss of Mains Change Programme is a collaboration with NGESO to update the electrical protection of distributed generators (DG). The programme offers funding support to DG as an incentive to make the necessary updates to their electrical protection as soon as possible. DG apply for funding on a portal via the ENA’s website.
We estimate the number of generators across UK Power Networks’ three licence areas impacted by this programme to be:
|UK Power Networks License Area||No. Generators||Connected Capacity (GW)|
|Total UK Power Networks||3075||4.9|
The programme is being delivered through defined application windows. The first application window went live on 2 October 2019, and it is currently in its eighth application window. The programme is planned to run until the Distribution Code change comes into effect on 01 September 2022.
A programme of targeted engagement has been in progress to drive more applications from UK Power Networks distributed generators. This has included distribution of letters to c.1,600 sites that have not yet applied to the programme late in 2020 which proved to be very successful in driving more applications. In April 2021, UKPN distributed letters to a further c. 800 sites. Direct phone and email communication has been ongoing with owners of sites in the 5-50 MW range in order to drive compliance from the sites with the highest impact on the system.
The following table provides summary information on the total applications received by UK Power Networks from generators or their contractors making changes under this programme.
Key progress highlights:
- 60% of the MW capacity in our areas have applied to make changes through the programme or have confirmed compliance outside of the programme.
- 70% of sites in the 5-50 MW bracket in our areas have applied through the programme or confirmed compliance outside of the programme. A further 10% so far have acknowledged or committed to making changes following our engagement.
|Key metrics for the Loss of Mains programme||UKPN|
|Total No. Applications||794|
|Total MW Capacity of applications||2.8GW|
|No. sites with completed works||548|
|Capacity of sites with completed works||1.8 GW|
|Total payments made to generators||£1.02m|
Energy flexibility is an integral part of our transition to a DSO, allowing us to manage the network, build a more resilient grid and save money for our customers.
In this emerging market, UK Power Networks is buying ‘flexibility’ from a range of organisations that can alter their energy generation or consumption as a service. Procuring flexibility helps us balance supply with demand by turning supply up or demand down, depending on what is happening on our network. The rapid rise in smaller-scale renewable generation such as wind and solar farms, along with new storage and electric vehicle technologies, has helped to create this new market.
This year we made more than £13million available for 292MW of flexible power across 113 different sites in London, the East and South East of England. The new tender included locations with flexibility start dates of up to just four weeks after the tender concluding, offering a new revenue stream for existing operational assets to participate in the market. All this work builds on previous flexibility tenders, including awarding £30m of contracts for 350MW of flexible power from our spring 2021 Flex Tender – our biggest ever flexibility tender award and still the UK’s highest value tender. Our latest tender means that since 2019, we have awarded flexibility contracts to 29 companies worth more than £44.5m for almost 500MW of peak power up to 2028.
Stakeholder engagement is a key pillar for UK Power Networks in enabling the flexibility market, allowing us to provide regular updates and capture feedback. While we have significantly expanded the market year-on-year by making more zones available, our latest tender looked to precure closer to real time flexibility and deliver a holistic framework from 2022 onwards off the back of customer feedback. From extra high voltage network right down to the low voltage network, we’re opening revenue opportunities to more people. We were the first network operator in the UK to offer flexibility at the low voltage level, and the only one to offer contracts for as little as 10kW (equivalent to four homes) across our product range, helping to unlock residential access and participation in flexibility markets. As a result, we have seen rapid growth in residential flexibility participating in our tenders which accounts for almost a third of our contract awards.
We are leading a national effort for standardised flexibility products across networks by chairing the ENA’s Open Networks project and we have supported the development and implemented standardised flexibility contracts and evaluation methodologies. We are also making more information available on our recently launched flexibility hub including zone data files and new market reports.
In December 2021 UK Power Networks unveiled plans to establish the UK’s first ever legally independent DSO by April 2023.
Sotiris Georgiopoulos, head of smart grid development at UK Power Networks said: “We know that flexibility can provide a cost-effective and quick alternative to building new infrastructure to help manage the rise in low carbon technologies like electric vehicles and heat pumps. This latest tender underlines our commitment to the market. Establishing an independent DSO is demonstrating to potential providers of flexibility that the market facilitator is credible and evaluates options with impartiality.
We are constantly looking for new opportunities to use smart interventions such as flexibility services to help us better manage the network, and for the first time this summer we have used flexibility to support a network outage.
Key stakeholder outcomes:
- Unlocked 350MW contracted flexibility capacity, deferring £95.5m network reinforcement by 2028
- 493% expansion of flexibility tender locations, resulting in the highest flexibility award of any DNO, spanning 60 LV locations
- Stimulated new participation from domestic batteries and EVs with a three-fold increase to 248MW, equivalent to a gas-fired power station
Smart EV charging is critical to enabling the lowest cost electrification of transport, especially important as consumers are facing increased cost of living. As more people opt for a low carbon way of life, demand on the electricity grid rises with customers wanting the choice of how and when they charge. Project Shift means people can easily access the benefits of the fast-emerging flexibility market while supporting the increased adoption of EVs.
We partnered with Kaluza, Octopus Energy and ev.energy, to look at how we could help local residents to join the energy ‘flexibility’ market and reduce the costs of running their electric vehicles (EVs). Together we developed and trialled three different ways to incentivise EV charging outside of peak times, more attractive to EV owners.
This work formed the world’s largest trial of smart charging incentives and showed that only 19% of the time customers spend plugged in at home, is needed to meet their charging needs. This makes ‘smart charging’ a possibility for people who can shift their charge times to when demand on the electricity network is lower, using cheaper, greener electricity to charge their car ready for the next day.
We found that 85% of customers were open to smart charging, so long as their mobility requirements were met and smart charging helped reduce demand during the evening peak was reduced by an average of 79% when using ongoing financial incentives. This means customers can charge their car for less at certain times and earn rewards for doing so, while avoiding the need for local electricity networks to be reinforced.
William Goldsmith, head of grid & data services at ev.energy, said:
“It’s been fantastic working with UK Power Networks on such world leading innovation and I am delighted that the learnings from Project Shift have already been integrated into UK Power Networks’ first-of-a-kind flexibility tenders.
“Charging electric vehicles smartly to unlock grid services is a critical part of delivering a green, affordable energy future. This can only be done by engaging and incentivising EV drivers to take part.”
Using findings from our smart charging trial with Octopus Energy we co-developed a simpler process to enable providers to value how much customers should be rewarded for their EV flexibility. Flexibility provided by EVs could reduce costs to our customers by £250m by 2028. By engaging with aggregators and suppliers who will provide this service, we learned that the ability to measure how much consumers shift their electricity in response to a price signal is crucial to be able to remunerate consumers and unlock participation. However, the current industry approach, developed to manage large power stations, was not suitable for EV flexibility. Our new approach provides aggregators with a simpler process to value this flexibility. We are delighted that Octopus Energy is embedding this as the basis of their Time of Use tariffs and advocating its use to other DNOs to benefit all GB customers.
The Powerful-CB project aims to demonstrate that fault-limiting circuit breakers (FLCBs) can enable distribution network operators (DNOs) to connect more distributed generation (DG) to fault level constrained 11 kV electricity networks without the need for reinforcement.
We have been working with our technology partner to develop a FLCB for use at primary substations and it operates 20 times faster than existing vacuum circuit breakers. This is the world’s first demonstration of a FLCB with a fast commutating switch.
This high-speed operation can mitigate fault level contributions from distributed generation, allowing us to connect more DG to fault-level constrained networks including dense urban areas where space may be constrained using other fault mitigation technologies.
If proven successful, Powerful CB could facilitate the connection of more distributed generation faster and more cost effectively, potentially saving customers across Great Britain up to £400m by 2050.
UK Power Networks Smart Connect portal has revolutionised the process of connecting low carbon technology to the local electricity network. Described as a ‘game-changer’ by Octopus Energy, the industry-first portal has made it faster and easier than ever before for customers to be part of the transition to net zero and go electric.
Smart Connect uses a combination of automation and innovative rules-based network assessments to automatically assess connections and respond to customers. The new portal allows users to get an instant decision on whether they can connect domestic electric vehicle charge points, heat pumps, battery storage or solar PV, to the local electricity network without further work. It removes the need for multiple paper forms, streamlining and speeding up the process. We developed and launched Smart Connect after close collaboration with project partner Octopus Electric Vehicles to address feedback that the old process for domestic vehicle-to-grid projects was confusing and time-consuming. The portal was trailed with different customers including domestic consumers to ensure it is fit for purpose and scalable in turn enabling UK Power Networks to facilitate more clean technologies as customers take part in the transition to net zero.
We have automatically approved over a third of all domestic LCT connections submitted through Smart Connect, saving customers an average of 5 days per LCT connection. Based on information submitted by installers, we can proactively contact customers to arrange an upgrade to their electricity supply if required. One in five applications Smart Connect applications are referred for this service, providing a faster, seamless and scalable service to support growing LCT uptake.
Albena Ivanova, Octopus Electric Vehicles, said: “The launch of the portal will be a game changer for customers and installers alike, making the connection assessment and process fast and transparent.”
Visit the portal here.
UK Power Networks is a standard bearer in facilitating the transition to a Net Zero economy through electric vehicles, electric heating and renewable energy. We also take responsibility for our own carbon footprint and continually look for ways to reduce the environmental impact of our business.
Our environmental strategy is to minimise our impact, lead by example and support the transition to a Net Zero. In 2017/18, we launched our Green Action Plan. We are taking a long-term view of our environmental responsibilities.
As part of our Green Action Plan, we’ve replaced 660,000 virgin plastic bottles with 100% recycled plastic, and our property estate is now supplied on a contract using 100% renewable energy. Other key successes include:
- Saving 2,000 tonnes of carbon by deploying the new amorphous steel transformers at scale
- 3,600 miles saved per year by reducing inefficiencies in the supply chain
- Reduced the plastic incorporated in water bottles by half and greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing by 70%, saving 41,000+ litres of fuel oil in the manufacturing process
- The battery chainsaws will help improve work conditions for 200 people for 9,400+ hours a year, by reducing harmful emissions and fuel wastage
- Eliminated 290 hard cases for our power tools – equivalent to 150,000 plastic bags.
- 6,000 tonnes of carbon saved annually by purchasing 100% renewable energy
UK Power Networks is committed to continuing to reduce its carbon footprint. To deliver on our 2028 Net Zero target for emissions directly under our control we’ve taken actions amidst an evolving technology and policy landscape. Two key developments resulted from engagement with expert stakeholders:
- We decided to include indirect supply chain emissions in our accredited sciencebased targets as they make up 84% of our total carbon footprint when excluding losses. Networks do not consistently do this as they typically fall below the threshold for mandatory inclusion when including losses.
- We need to prioritise reduction in diesel consumption given that it contributes to 70% of our carbon footprint and causes poor air quality.
In 2020/21 our overall carbon emissions were 23,936 tCO2e below our 2014/15 baseline, a 30.9% reduction and surpassing our initial stakeholder target of 2% each year. In 2022 we have continued the 1.5 degree trajectory for our directly controlled emissions, resulting in 1,797 tonnes of carbon reduced in 2021/22, equivalent to running an oil boiler for 613 years. We adapted our fleet replacement strategy to invest in the right technology at the right time and are trialling the replacement of diesel with hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) fuel, which is 90% less carbon-intensive and could result in cost savings. As a result we’ve reduced carbon by 90% and NOx by 30% in our trial of switching from diesel to HVO fuels for generator contracts, leading to a potential overall business carbon footprint reduction of 16% when scaled to all generators.
This work builds on our Green Action Plan, launched in 2018, which contains ambitious environmental targets. We believe this plan gives us best-in-class environmental credentials, taking us above and beyond not only our ED1 business plan commitments, but also those of our peers. The creation and execution of Green Action Plan are only achievable through direct customer engagement. It was initially presented in draft to our Critical Friends Panels (CFPs), where we invited participants to challenge its contents and help shape it.
They added new ideas and set stringent targets on air quality and biodiversity. This helped to make it a better strategy. It now includes commitments to achieve recognition from stretching external accreditation, such as through the Carbon Trust. We have also adopted the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals. This demonstrates and reaffirms our commitment to enabling social progress and clean growth at the same time protecting the environment.
Find out more about our Green Action Plan.
As part of our Green Action Plan, we are deploying new alternately-fuelled hybrid generators to significantly lower carbon emissions while keeping customers on supply during power cuts. On rare occasions, we deploy back-up generators to keep power supplies 99.99% reliable for millions of customers in London, the South East and East of England. We do this to keep our customers safe and warm, especially during periods of bad weather when power cuts are more likely to occur. The Cleaner Engines project aims to test alternatively-fuelled hybrid generators which produce fewer carbon emissions than those currently in use.
We are investigating three types of hybrid generators running on three different alternative fuels:
- Biofuel (hydrotreated vegetable oil – HVO)
- Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)
In the project, we are working with two suppliers to design, build and demonstrate these innovative generator technologies. We are testing these different alternatives to make sure we ultimately select the one which provides the best performance, efficiency, reliability and emissions reduction.
Renewables accounted for 41% of the electricity generated by major power producers in the first three months of 2022, a 2TWh increase from 2021, as favourable weather condition led to an increase in wind and solar generation. As of June 2022, there was almost 8.3GW of large (>1MW) scale distributed generation connected to UK Power Networks’ networks, with an additional 10GW of accepted capacity in the pipeline. As renewable generation increased, the use of natural gas in electricity generation reduced by 15% when compared to the beginning of 2021.
The Green Recovery fund is allowing us to continue to help ensure reliable supplies for now and in the future to meet the Government’s plans for Net Zero.
There was a clear, strong message from our stakeholders, that there are a wide range of projects ready and raring to go within our area. In total 360 applications were received for the Green Recovery programme. Applicants from all areas bid in to the programme, from commercial fleet operators to local councils and community groups. In particular a strong response was seen in Electric Vehicle charging applications, these included councils installing local chargers on residential streets to commercial operators where the cost to connect had provided a challenge in the past.
Through the detailed review all submissions were analysed against the Green Recovery criteria. Projects were also developed on an engineering basis to identify key infrastructure challenges and to confirm estimated costs.
UK Power Networks is delivering 66 million investment, over 86 sites, to deliver low carbon energy projects that will help achieve the Government’s Ten Point Plan towards Net Zero by 2050. These applications will unlock 147MVA of capacity and will provide:
- Significant capacity at 11 Motorway Service Areas to enable capacity for more than 600 ultra fast 150kW chargers.
- Range of Local Authority and Commercially Operated local charging hubs to enable 500 rapid 50kW chargers.
- Community and public building heat and renewable generation projects.
The Thames Estuary is one of many sites to benefit. The clock is ticking on Net Zero so 86 projects are being fast-tracked by the electricity firm, including Electric Vehicle charging hubs at motorway service stations, fleets of electric buses, community energy schemes and heat pumps.
Net Zero Marine Services (NZMS) has secured capital from UK Power Networks’ Green Recovery Fund programme to support its power infrastructure along the Thames. NZMS are developing seven shore power locations in central London. These locations will create a network of high voltage power infrastructure facilities available for all Thames operators.
As part of the works, UK Power Networks will pull through new cables and install equipment that will allow for the electrification of boats along the Thames. This means less carbon emissions, reduced water contamination and cleaner air.
Miles Cole, project delivery director at Net Zero Marine Services, said: “The Thames has huge potential for sustainable growth, but operators will not make significant investments decisions in clean tech until the infrastructure and support ecosystems are in place. Things are about to change. NZMS is enabling zero emissions investment on the Thames by building a network of shore power and green hydrogen projects along the Thames Estuary. Over the next few years, the Thames is going to see a huge shift towards clean operations and those that don’t adapt will lose their competitive advantage or simply risk being left behind. We are already starting to see it.
“This Green Recovery Fund has unlocked these shore power projects by removing network reinforcement costs which would otherwise have been prohibitive. This support marks a truly pivotal moment in our work to stimulate the net zero marine sector on the river in the centre of London.”
The only way for the UK to reach its legally-binding commitment to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050 is by decarbonising transport, how we heat our homes and businesses and how we generate electricity. Our Green Recovery programme provided an unprecedented opportunity to support the green economy and address climate change by kickstarting shovel-ready green energy infrastructure projects.
Find out more about Green Recovery here.
In order to facilitate Net Zero, UK Power Networks has a key role in enabling the electric transport revolution. We have developed our EV readiness strategy in order to deliver this for our customers.
By segmenting our focus into four areas, we are taking a strategic approach to enabling the electric revolution at the lowest cost to our customers.
We have developed best-in-class forecasting. Developing industry-leading forecasting tools through projects such as Recharge the Future means we can predict down to unprecedented granularity when and where EV-related load will increase on our network.
We are also investing £41m over four years in targeted granular network monitoring. We are installing strategically-targeted Low Voltage monitoring in substations that we predict will be affected by EV load, with almost 1,000 being installed in 2022. We also understand the value of grid edge equipment in building a wider level of LV visibility, so we are partnering with third party intermediaries to collaborate on data.
We are working constructively with government, installers and industry leaders to address the barriers to the rollout of EV charging infrastructure. Together, with a leading economic consultancy, we developed a bespoke framework to assess how the barriers impact each of the key EV charging market segments. This research allowed us to identify that publicly used charge points faced the biggest challenge and there was added social value in us intervening in these markets. Consequently, we co-developed a framework on how DNOs can work with public and private bodies to support investment in public charging infrastructure where the market is failing to develop. We tested our recommendations for a joint planning approach delivered by the market with a range of stakeholders who supported our proposal and we will be trialling this approach subject to government and Ofgem approval.
We are also using our previous experience to help reduce connection costs via improved co-ordination and planning. Building on our work with Transport for London on electrifying the London bus fleet, we worked with BEIS to identify the most cost effective approach to roll-out ultra-fast public charging at motorway service stations to alleviate range anxiety. This co-ordinated and collaborative effort has identified savings of £40m across 19 motorway service stations.
Optimise Prime is the world’s largest trial of commercial EVs. It seeks to develop practical solutions to the challenges preventing fleet vehicle operators from going electric. Royal Mail, Centrica and Uber now have over 6,000 Electric Vehicles (EVs) taking part in the project, in partnership with UK Power Networks and Hitachi.
The solutions we’ve co designed are estimated to save customers more than £200m by 2030 and enable the faster transition to electric for commercial fleets and private hire vehicle operators. The project is also playing a vital role in helping the UK meet its carbon reduction targets. The accelerated adoption of commercial EVs will save 2.7m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to London’s entire bus fleet running for four years or a full Boeing 747-400 travelling around the world 1,484 times.
One of the key solutions developed is a flexible demand connection offering called a profiled connection which has been trialled as part of the Depot Trial and extends the timed connection offering by providing up to 48 half-hourly time slots in which the maximum power requirement can potentially be varied. This allows customers who have flexible loads, such as EVs in the case of Optimise Prime, to control the imported power by using behind the meter smart control solutions to follow an agreed profile which will result in the increased utilisation of existing network capacity, avoiding costly reinforcements and resulting in quicker connections for customers. Having proven this is successful in helping our customers, profiled connections will be offered to our customers from the beginning of 2023.
In a first for the industry, UK Power Networks also launched a new ‘site planning tool’ in 2022 as part of the project, revolutionising the process of going electric for businesses across the UK. The tool is making it quicker and easier than ever before for fleets to make the switch to EVs. A simple online system, it has been designed for any fleet manager to assess how to go electric at lowest cost.
Electrifying a fleet is a complex process. Managers must consider what vehicles are needed on which routes, when they are needed and where there is space to charge. By inputting information such as vehicle schedules, mileage and site energy profiles, to the tool easily compares different scenarios to understand the impact of going electric and the benefits of using smart charging.
The tool also checks if a site needs an electricity connection upgrade, or if a fleet can operate on the existing connection. As a result, distribution network operators have a better understanding of customers’ needs, reducing the need for costly, time-consuming upgrades and ultimately accelerating the uptake of electric vehicles in the transition to Net Zero.
Michael Wilmshurst, fleet business development manager at Novuna Vehicle Solutions said: “UK Power Networks’ tool is straightforward to follow and supported with some good literature. In particular, the scenario results were really interesting and I particularly liked the interactive graphs, which helps me to work out different scenarios on the optimum charging strategy to discuss with my commercial fleet clients, as they transition to electric vehicles.”
The tool includes two main features:
Site Electrification Planner: designed to give a quick estimate of the cost to connect EV charge points at existing sites based on four inputs (number of charge points planned, power rating of the charge points, site connection limit and current peak demand).
Site Planning Tool: which requires more granular inputs and calculates the connection capacity required under different optimisation scenarios including a base case, unmanaged charging and smart charging. The results from the tool provides a good basis for discussion with the DNO.
We know that electric vehicles will play a crucial role in reaching the UK’s 2050 Net Zero carbon emissions target, but we don’t yet know how small companies will adapt. The White Van Plan project is investigating the needs of SMEs to allow us to facilitate their transition to zero emission vehicles. As part of our leadership in the Mayor of London’s EV taskforce and partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), we learnt that to support small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in their EV transition, we need to understand the unique challenges faced by this large and diverse group. Hard-to-reach SMEs are likely to be left behind in the EV transition, and may struggle with transport electrification without adequate support.
White Van Plan is the first of its kind, engaging with and helping small businesses owners from all sectors make the transition to EVs. We’ve developed an extensive data set to map out how the switch to EVs might look for the 2.3 million small businesses in our area. White Van Plan has now engaged with over 1,200 small businesses across all sectors to develop extensive data sets to understand exactly what SMEs need and what UK Power Networks can do to help them make the transition. We have created a segmentation of the SME market, and gained an understanding of specific needs of SMEs which will allow us to tailor support in the transition to a low carbon economy.
David Savage, Manager of Savage & Sons Electrical Limited, Bedfordshire said:
“For small companies to be interested in EVs, it is vital they understand the potential financial benefits and get extra support, especially during the challenges we are facing right now. It’s great to hear about projects like White Van Plan aimed at helping companies like ours.”
For customers submitting more complex applications, we worked with installers to take a fresh look at the process from a customer perspective to make the process simpler and more streamlined – ensuring we are not a blocker to customers charging their Electric Vehicles or switching to a heat pump.
We’ve trained domestic battery and solar installers who will carry out 25,000 installations on behalf of local authorities across Essex, Cambridgeshire, London, Kent and Sussex through the Solar Together group, supporting them to use our self-service portal and enabling them to complete installations faster and more accurately.
Customers continue to want to contact us themselves, so we engaged with our customers to develop self-service options that enable them to apply and book a home supply upgrade in under three minutes, reducing customer effort.
As a direct result of this training being delivered to local authority appointed installers which cover 58% of our region, 25,000 residential solar and battery installation can be delivered much faster and efficiently.
We can now provide instant digital approval for 100% of third party meter operators to carry out fuse upgrades when on-site for the charger install, reducing customer effort and increasing speed for customers.
To deliver a roll out of charging infrastructure at scale, we need to work really closely with Local Authorities and charge point developers.A lack of easily accessible charge points is one of the biggest challenges for people who might want to switch to an electric vehicle. Companies that invest in new charge points face barriers too, because there can be high up-front investment costs combined with a set of market, policy and regulatory failures. This means that charge points aren’t as widespread as they could be in certain areas, therefore holding back the uptake of EVs.
We partnered with Cambridge to bring together councils’ local knowledge, our expertise on network capacity and forecast EV uptake, and CPOs’ delivery experience to ensure charge points are planned in optimal locations to meet community needs. Strategic planning enables a ‘dig once’ approach to upgrading the network to support EVs, delivering investment at the lowest overall cost. We are developing this pathfinder approach further with Norwich and Redbridge by incorporating feedback from resident surveys on barriers to EV uptake and predicted charging behaviours.
Cost was identified as a barrier for some and we launched a tender in Cambridge using Green Recovery Funding to fully offset connection costs. We are also launching competitions to reveal what level of discount on connection costs is needed to incentivise investment in public charging blackspots. Given the progressive nature of this initiative and its pressure on current regulations, we worked with Ofgem through the regulatory sandbox to align regulation to need. Testing of both approaches is underway to evaluate which is the most effective way to ensure customers without off-street charging are not left behind.
From this initial learning, we will use a community-based approach with other local authorities and DNOs through Green Recovery investments, and share learnings with community energy groups, BEIS and OZEV to stimulate greater public charging provision for those without access to off-street parking.
For more information visit the project’s webpage
Councillor Kevin Maguire, cabinet member for safe and sustainable city environment at Norwich City Council, said: “The Charge Collective project will help our city to identify barriers to EV take-up especially in areas of high density housing. It’s important that the electrification of transport is socially inclusive and benefits all sectors of society”.
Norfolk County Council’s two key portfolio leads for the Environment and Transport, Cllr Andy Grant, cabinet member for environment and waste, and Cllr Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, said in a joint statement: “As we move towards a low carbon future, cleaner transport has an important role to play. Building on successful work by Transport for Norwich which has seen cycle use increase by 40% in recent years and the introduction of e-scooters, electric vehicles will be a key part of our strategy in the years ahead. This project seeks to enable and encourage providers to invest in Norfolk, which is crucial if we are to have the charging network we need to support a greener economic future.”
The wide scale roll-out of high powered EV charging infrastructure is essential to accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector. Furthermore, we must give existing and future owners of EVs confidence that they will have access to high powered chargepoints (150 – 350 kW) in a similar manner to how you can stop at a petrol station for conventional vehicles.
Motorway service areas (MSAs) and service areas in major A-roads have been identified as a specific area in which the roll-out of high powered EV charging infrastructure will be important to build range confidence in consumers.
Most of the small/medium sized sites are currently connected to the 11kV or LV network with typically no 33kV network near-by. A significant amount of network reinforcements would be required on these sites in order to power high powered chargepoints. This would be expensive, time consuming and take up a large amount of space in areas where space is already limited.
Project Voyage is developing and trialling a standardised substation that can be delivered in kit form which is compact, lower in cost and faster in delivery to support the nation-wide mass rollout at small/medium sized MSA sites and service areas on major A-roads. The scalable design allows locations to add capacity in 1.5 MVA blocks to match growing demand or to accommodate multiple CPOs (Charge Point Operators). Lowering upfront investment whilst providing flexibility to expand, if proven successful, the compact substation will be made available to the market for rapid deployment.
The new substation design which fits within a single parking space and can be delivered and deployed to the charging site 2 weeks faster, takes 20-50% less space that traditional solutions and will improve access to charge points across the UK.
In order to model the uncertainties in the pathway to a Net Zero economy, UK Power Networks engaged Element Energy to develop a set of Distribution Future Energy Scenarios (DFES) describing the evolution of demand and generation across UK Power Networks’ licence areas out to 2050. The scenarios produced seek to encompass the range of potential outcomes for a broad range of the key drivers of demand and generation on the networks over the period. As part of the Open Networks Project all DNOs agreed to standardise their DFES on a single set of scenario frameworks based on the National Grid ESO Future Energy Scenarios. A key benefit of this was it ensured that all companies were presenting the information in a common framework for stakeholders. The DFES published in December 2020 was the first to be based on this agreed framework.
One of the key features of the DFES is that the forecasts are regionally specific. This is important as many local authorities and county councils are declaring climate emergencies and implementing their own Net Zero dates, in many cases earlier than the national 2050 target. Having geographically specific forecasts allows regional bodies to have a set of forecasts that are relevant to their local area. These can then be used to inform climate action plans and local policy decisions. In addition, having these regionally specific forecasts allows us to reflect local factors and include them in our forecasts.
80% of our 127 local authorities we serve have declared a climate emergency and increasingly need data to understand the potential increase in Low Carbon Technologies across their communities and to develop climate action plans. Councils told us they see our granular Distribution Future Energy Scenarios (DFES) as a valuable input to their decarbonisation plans, but many don’t have the capabilities to analyse the data on our Open Data portal themselves. To ensure we produced data that was usable in the real world and supported the local government, we developed bespoke ‘heat maps’ overlaying DFES data onto local areas and shared these with local authorities.
Working with Open Data Institute Leeds and local authorities we designed and trialled a new tool that allows stakeholders to visualise and download data in ready-to-use formats, making it easier for them and other stakeholders to use our forecasts to inform their climate policies90% of local authorities who responded to our survey said they plan to use DFES data going forward.
Sandra Norval, West Sussex County Council, said: “The visualisations are so much easier to interpret than the raw datasets and will be invaluable in developing our plans to support decarbonisation of public transport as part of our ambition to achieve Net Zero carbon emissions for our operations by 2030.”
In 2022, building on our engagement last year to share data on low carbon technology (LCT) uptake forecasts by local authority area, we collaborated with six county councils to co-develop a consistent and less resourceintensive framework to support their local area energy planning. We worked with Essex County Council to develop the draft framework, as they had already begun data analysis on their potential decarbonisation pathways. We then shared the framework with all our regional county councils through design workshops for further refinement.
We have a key role in enabling local authorities to progress faster. Based on regional authority feedback, we decided to use publicly available local area energy planning information to complete the initial assessment on their behalf, then share our assessment of potential gaps to shape the next stage. We are the only DNO to develop this kind of framework. Outcomes include £342k potential savings per local authority due to our simplified, evidence-based framework to assist with local area energy planning, which we will scale to 40 local authorities (5 per year) delivering £13.7m benefits 13 regional planning authorities representing 93% of our total population have endorsed the process. By producing a repeatable approach and establishing a team to support, we can enable efficiencies for taxpayers. Sharing our resources and utilising our structured framework reduces the need for local authorities to spend money on modelling and data acquisition. The next stage of our engagement will focus on taking the framework online through a digital tool and adding features to enable local authorities to assess different decarbonisation solutions.
Heat is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. 95% of stakeholders at our Local Authorities Forum agreed that off-gas grid customers should be the most likely early adopters of low carbon heating. Engagement with regional gas network operators validated that electrification is the clear pathway for off-gas grid customers, leading us to focus on supporting heat decarbonisation in these communities. Transitioning an entire community in an efficient and coordinated way is complex, so last year we set out to develop the UK’s first nationally replicable blueprint for off-gas grid communities to follow, collaborating with partners in Barcombe, an off-gas grid village in East Sussex.
- We built an innovative ‘digital twin’ of the local energy network to model the effects of different heat decarbonisation pathways. Working with Community Energy South, Buro Happold and Lewes Council, we engaged with over 600 (85%) individual households and businesses in Barcombe to understand their circumstances before evaluating the benefits of a locally coordinated transition. We then modelled the impact of this coordinated approach against uncoordinated action to compare the costs, energy efficiency implications, disruption and carbon impact. We shared this model with the community so they could visualise how changes to their property could contribute to the overall community decarbonisation plan.
- We developed individual decarbonisation action plans for 150 homes and for five building archetypes which could be scaled to 550 local homes. By engaging with 150 households, Community Energy South and Ovesco, we were able to develop these personalised plans and devise common plans for five building types that cover all homes in Barcombe and are scalable for other communities to use. This coordinated approach has made the work more feasible for LCT installers, accelerating the village’s transition and since engaging in the project, Lewes District Council is now looking to decarbonise the rest of its housing stock.
- Disseminated our learnings through a combination of events, including personalising the story of Barcombe customers. We shared our learnings with heat supply chain stakeholders and other networks at a showcase event, with first-hand accounts from customers in Barcombe, and raised awareness further through a BBC feature. To accelerate and scale up progress, we co-developed a blueprint document to support other local authorities, community energy groups and off-gas grid communities to decarbonise their heating. We are now working with community clusters to test the methodology at scale and develop the step-by-step toolkit to support our transition approach.
The outcome of this project will deliver deliver £88m net customer savings when scaled to 242,000 (71%) of our off-gas grid customers – a £456m lower cost option than a gas alternative – and accelerate the pace of decarbonisation by 13 years.
To deliver Net Zero at the lowest cost to customers, UK Power Networks is looking at ways to incentivise customers to shift their energy use when it is cheaper and greener to do so. Through our project Shift, we have gained a better understanding of consumer behaviour to design attractive flexibility products to maximise participation and value.
We partnered with forward thinking energy companies to develop and run UK-first trials of a range of smart charging products, with over 2,000 EV owners in control of how they respond to financial incentives. Through the trials and our customer surveys, we found that most EV drivers smart charge majority of the time, while 7.5% of customers manually started a charging session more often than they smart charged. This insight validates that customers want to stay in control of their EV charging and allows us to factor this real-world behaviour into our network planning.
We worked with our partners to identify which aspects of customer behaviour can be influenced through proposition design. Octopus Energy’s customer survey found 83% of customers responded to tariff signals by moving the demand of other devices alongside their EV, such as dishwashers and washing machines. This insight will help us develop products that optimise existing network capacity, minimising cost and customer disruption.
Greg Jackson, CEO and founder of Octopus Energy said: “Sales of electric cars have increased 10-fold in the last five years because they are simply better than diesel and petrol. Whilst they are still a minority of cars on the road, many people say that their next car will be their first electric or their last fossil fuel. Meeting the demand for all this extra electricity will be cheapest if we use our existing infrastructure to the max. Smart charging – filling cars with renewable electrons at times when the network is under-utilised – will help make green driving cheap driving. Crucially, it reduces costs for everyone by getting more out of the system.”
Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology offers tremendous potential to integrate more low carbon technologies onto the network and help manage the forecasted growth of electricity demand in the UK. We forecast up to 380k V2G charge points on our network alone by 2030 and UK Power Networks is leading the way in demonstrating this technology through the TransPower project.
Running until July 2022, TransPower will investigate the network impact of V2G and develop vital learnings about how we can develop a market to harness this emerging technology. Through the project, we are partnering with vehicle manufacturers, energy suppliers, technology providers and academics to design and test V2G with domestic customers, electric buses and commercial fleets.
As part of TransPower, we are involved in the following trials ar, covering different segments of the EV market:
- Bus2Grid: Supporting a project to turn a 28-bus garage into the first of its kind in the UK V2G bus garage
- E4Future: A V2G trial with commercial fleet vehicles operating on a back-to-base charging model
- PowelLoop: Domestic V2G trial involving 135 customers across our electricity network
- V2Street: Public charging networks with a local authority and a charge point provider. Targeted at the 60-70% of Londoners without off-street charging capability
UK-wide installers told us the application process for small-scale V2G installations which requires multiple application forms is too complex and presents a barrier to uptake. Through working with the Energy Networks Association and companies such as Octopus Electric Vehicles and Nuvve, we led the creation and testing of a simpler and faster UK-wide application process to facilitate this rapidly emerging technology.
Over the past year we have observed growing interest in V2G from domestic consumers, stimulated by increased coverage of V2G in the media including an episode of Fully Charged Plus on Powerloop. Customer appetite for more dynamic V2G products and insights into real-world customer behaviour from Shift are informing the development of a new V2G services for domestic consumers in the ongoing trials with Octopus EV.
To enable stakeholders around the globe to keep abreast of the latest trends and learnings from V2G projects, we partnered with Government funding body Innovate UK to develop the V2G Hub to further disseminate data across the industry, showcasing 67 pioneering V2G projects across 17 countries for a total of 5300+ chargers.
We recognise the path to Net Zero is not straightforward. Our focus will always be to target emissions reductions first, but at some point, we will need to offset the remaining difficult-to-remove emissions. Expert stakeholders told us to start preparing for offsetting now, before demand for verified schemes grows in the coming years. They encouraged us to start building relationships and identifying the types of offsets we could use and the additional benefits that could be realised such as from nature, technology, and community-based solutions.
We explored partnerships with Wildlife Trusts and Natural England to identify how we could create synergies between our regional biodiversity programmes and wider initiatives in the community. We found these organisations are very interested in collaborating on local, nature-based solutions that improve biodiversity potential while offering potential future pathways to offsetting.
Enhanced biodiversity alongside our tree-cutting activities. A Wildlife Trust in our eastern region taught us about the potential of re-using dead wood and creating dense thickets to support local wildlife following tree-cutting. We are changing our procurement contracts to embed this practice into our business-as-usual operations. We are exploring how to develop ‘wildlife corridors’ that create proportionally greater biodiversity benefits than isolated sites by combining our data with Wildlife Trusts and Natural England priority sites. This will guide us to identify the next 100 sites we prioritise for biodiversity enhancements, allowing us to maximise environmental benefits through collaboration.
Historically, extreme weather has been the primary risk for which we have had to be prepared. However, in recent years cyber-attacks have become an increasingly high risk. Criminal activity and terrorism is not new, but its threats are ever more complex. The Covid-19 pandemic has demanded even more changes to how our business operates to keep the lights on for our customers, and with this, there are new cyber threats and challenges to overcome.
UK Power Networks is committed to keeping our critical systems secure. Our Corporate IT and Industrial Control Systems are essential to the operation of our networks and the supply of electricity. Our increasing dependence on technology and devices also substantially increases the surfaces or entry points for cyber-attack. Our ability to detect and respond to a cyber threats is therefore vital and our focus remains on continually improving our cyber resilience. Given that the region we serve includes the capital city, financial centre and home of the UK Government, we regard regulatory requirements as a minimum standard to manage the cyber threat.
The protection and resilience of our information and operational technology is a priority for UK Power Networks. We have a dedicated cyber security team and specialist support partners who oversee and operate a comprehensive set of cyber security controls and measures. We operate an ISO-27001 aligned Information Security Management System and comply with the legal requirements of Smart Energy Code (SEC) and the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive. UK Power Networks fully complies with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) Cyber Assessment Framework (CAF) Basic Profile and are certified against the UK Government Cyber Essentials scheme.
Our resilience is an essential enabler to providing uninterrupted service to our customers at all times, despite expected or unexpected disruptions. Working with the Cabinet Office and its Emergency Planning College (EPC), we were the first Distribution Network Operator in the UK to have our functions of Organisational Resilience independently reviewed, based upon the BS 65000:2014. We have continued these reviews annually to embed our resilience strategy in the business and ensure we continue to improve year-on-year.
Our Organisational Resilience Leadership Team, chaired by our Director of Network Operations, is made up of Directors and Senior Managers and reports to our Executive Management Team on a regular basis. As one of our top ten strategic projects, we have placed an enormous amount of focus and effort on enhancing our resilience each year. We align our resilience standards to those issued by the Government and other industries that are traditionally considered ‘Best in Class’ for their resilience. This work has served us well; our fortified response to major disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Storm Eunice, has meant that we have been able to continue to operate and provide a high standard of service to our customers throughout.
Key actions we’ve taken in 2021/22:
- Used Business Continuity Plans (BCP) throughout the entire business with positive results.
- Rigorously tested the plans and dependencies used in real life circumstances and made improvements where necessary.
- Strengthened resilience at a local level through our membership of Resilience First, providing advice and support to the business community.
- Integrated risk management and organisational resilience at a strategic level through an Organisational Resilience Leadership Team and six, monthly risk-related forums.
- Extended the scope of our monthly “phishing” simulation emails to include over 6000 employees and reduced the users who fail the test and require follow-up training to 3%.
- Equipped over 6000 staff with the skills needed to identify and respond to possible cyber-attacks through our “security matters” cyber awareness campaign with enhanced and refreshed awareness training being launched in 2023.
- Successfully blocked a total of 99.7% of malicious emails.
We have compared and contrasted our own resilience preparedness with industry peers and non-energy companies, lead UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC); UK energy sector groups such as the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) and The Energy Emergencies Executive Cyber Committee (E3CC), Chair the General Electric (GE) Security Forum.
UK Power Networks has collaborated with leading network and security providers such as Cisco, to design the IP network of the future digital substation, and FortiNet who provided key industry information to enhance the design, specification and manufacture of industrial network switches that meet IEC61850 standards.
In March 2022, UK Power Networks ran a cyber crisis simulation that was facilitated by an external cyber specialist partner. This exercise included key members of the Incident Leadership Team and had representation across all key business functions. The scenario tested how ready the business was to respond to a realistic and serious cyber-attack in a safe environment. The scenario brought together a series situations based on real life events to simulate a cyber-attack. At each stage, the team was asked to consider how they would react to those circumstances, what potential issues could arise and what practical steps the team would take.
In 2022 we moved from an outdated website platform to a newer, more robust platform with many benefits. Prior to going live with the site, a third party carried out a penetration test. Following this, we identified and fixed all critical issues and have a robust plan to further improve and maintain the site.
Customer Empowerment & Satisfaction
As the UK’s largest electricity distributor, delivering power to more than 19 million people in the South East and East of England, ensuring that our customers receive the best possible service is at the heart of the business.
In 2021/22, UK Power Networks achieved its highest ever customer satisfaction rating of 93.13 making us the No. 1 ranked Distribution Network Operator (DNO) in the UK for delivering customer satisfaction. This covers the breadth of our services including everything from power cuts and connection services to general maintenance services.
UK Power Networks were also named No. 1 in this year’s independent 2022 UK’s Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). The UKCSI is the national barometer of customer satisfaction published twice a year by The Institute of Customer Service since 2008. We are the first DNO to feature in this national customer service index and the top ranked DNO in the UK.
Ofgem also placed UK Power Networks as No. 1 DNO in the 2022 Stakeholder Engagement and Consumer Vulnerability annual assessment for the second y ear in a row. The scheme measures how effectively regulated energy companies engage with stakeholders to shape the services they provide. Ofgem praised us for our caring approach to help customers in vulnerable circumstances including fuel poverty. Building on this work, this year UK Power Networks provided general fuel poverty advice to 897,870 customers and in-depth personalised one-to-one support to 15,735 customers.
Over the last few years, we’ve been awarded for our commitment to going above and beyond for our customers, including the Better Society Award 2021 for Commitment to Local Community and have been shortlisted for European Contact Centre of the Year 2022.
Trustpilot is Europe’s leading consumer review website, receiving over one million new reviews each month. Over 3500 customers have rated our services, We maintain an “Excellent” Trust Pilot rating with 4.9 out of five stars, a UK utility first further demonstrating our best in class service offering.
The energy sector is undergoing unprecedented change and, as part of that, our customers’ needs are changing too. To ensure we are always at the forefront and keeping pace with their evolving needs, we look across the horizon to anticipate the next big developments. We keep a real close eye on how our customers are feeling about the service we provide through industry surveys and our own feedback mechanisms.
This year, as we emerge from the global pandemic and while the UK continues with its decarbonisation ambitions, we have continued to look at the changing needs of our customers. As people returned to workplaces and schools, or adopted a blended working or schooling lifestyle, the reliance on electricity services for traditional heating, lighting, cooking needs and electric vehicles evolved once again. We are constantly reviewing and assessing the needs of our customers, and looking at how we can personalise our services and the support we provide. It is essential to make our services easy, reliable, and to keep our customers informed and up-to-date throughout their experience with us. Our quest for customer feedback and insights to shape our service offerings is reflected in what our partners say about us.
Emma Hopkins, Director, Explain, said: “UK Power Networks wanted to find out what really mattered to customers when it came to the services they provide, adding another layer to their insights, as what people told us was based on real, first-hand experience. Robust feedback came from people who had a stake in the business doing better because they had been active users of its services. People enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to co-create service improvements too. It paid off due to the quality and scale of the insights received.”
With customers’ expectations ever-growing, last year we benchmarked our performance via the national cross-sector Institute of Customer Service UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). We learned that the very best companies scored higher on customer effort and emotional connection, including trust. Using this learning and analysing our own customer satisfaction data we found that the accuracy and usefulness of information are key to an excellent customer experience, so this year set ourselves the challenge to enhance these aspects of service, particularly across planned and unplanned interruptions.
We trialled geo-targeted Facebook posts to update local communities on works in their area and the benefits they would deliver. After learning about the process from Anglian Water, we trialled five use cases, including planned power outages and network upgrade projects. We found at an average cost of just £10 per day, we could reach 1,000-3,000 customers with between 29-84 engagements (like, comment or share). Each post received positive feedback and informed our decision to scale the approach across our regions.
We used anonymised mobile phone movement data to maximise the number of affected customers we can engage ahead of planned power cuts. We partnered with O2 to source data to predict whether visitors and commuters are likely to be affected by planned power cuts, as well as residents and business owners. We used this insight to send geo-targeted Facebook and LinkedIn posts to customers who do not live in the affected postcode but typically travel there, to reach more customers likely to be affected by the works. Our trial reached 3.9k customers at a cost of £57. We used feedback from Facebook posts to refine our approach as we scaled up, for example by referencing the outage notification letter local customers had already received.
We receive hundreds of pieces of customer feedback every day on what our customers think and feel about our service. This is achieved through text surveys using a solution called Rant and Rave as well as proactive calls to our customers keeping them updated. We also receive customer satisfaction scores and gain insight through customer enquiries and complaints.
We know that understanding and managing the customer experience in real time is vital. Through a data analytical tool and dashboard, we are able to; consolidate data, understand how the operation of the network is impacting customers in specific geographical locations, predict the impact power cuts are having on the customers affected and determine what service and support they will require based on their historical feedback and levels of satisfaction.
This tool and dashboard is data driven and available across the organisation to every field supervisor, providing a single view of customer experiences. It has been key to enabling us to manage customer service in real time aligned with our ideal customer journeys as well as recover where service is not being delivered right-first-time and spot gaps in service delivery to continuously improve.
The tool has also enabled UK Power Networks to:
- provide more channels for customers to communicate and engage with us, ensuring they are kept up to date
- offer opportunities to self-serve
- deliver targeted and tailored information
- make our services faster
Our approach to internal service is treating colleagues as customers. This model has been key to develop an organisational culture of service excellence. We measure internal customer service in parallel with our external customer service, and any teams where service is below target develop improvement plans based on the customer feedback and insight.
We have developed dashboards to allow internal customer satisfaction performance to be readily visible and easily understood. We also include questions about our service culture in our monthly employee engagement polling. This has shown a direct correlation between the improvements in our external customer satisfaction score of almost 93 and our internal customer satisfaction score, which has increased to 92 from 90 the previous year.
In 2021 we achieved our highest ranking of 6th place on the Best Big Companies to Work For list. The ranking is conducted by Best Companies and is based on employee surveys received. In the same year we also secured second place in the new Utilities’ sector Top 10 list, and on three regional lists including the Top Five Best Big Companies to work for in London.
Tackling climate change and supporting the UK to reach Net Zero is important to UK Power Networks and our customers. As the largest UK Distribution Network Operator, it is essential that we facilitate the transition to Net Zero and ensure that no one is left behind. In February 2021, UK Power Networks announced an additional £80m investment to kick-start projects that contribute towards the UK’s commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050. The programme follows the Government’s announcement in November 2020 of a Ten Point Plan to boost the ‘Green Recovery’ and enable the country to reach its target of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. We invited bids from shovel-ready low carbon energy projects that require a high or low voltage electricity connection in the next two years.
Green Recovery is supporting successful bidders who demonstrated their project helps enable the low carbon transition. This includes installing rapid electric vehicle charging stations in local communities, energy generators looking to connect more renewable energy to the electricity network, local heat networks or community energy projects. The successful projects will be announced in summer 2021, with a focus on funded projects that can be delivered in 2021 or 2022 to make sure the project has immediate impact.
UK Power Networks is at the forefront of the low carbon energy revolution. Innovation has a crucial role to play in keeping our customers’ lights on. It is helping us prepare for a low carbon future while ensuring we continue to improve the service we give our customers today. Our projects aim to make our network safer and more reliable as well as ensure technology of the future are accessible for everyone as we transition to net zero and the uptake in low carbon technologies continues to rise.
We innovate in multiple ways in order to deliver for our customers including:
- The impact of power cuts on day-to-day life has been greater while more customers have been working from home, so we challenged ourselves to minimise the impact of power cuts and maximise support. One of the tools we used for this was trialling geo-targeted Facebook posts to update local communities on works in their area and the benefits they would deliver. We trialled this approach using five case studies including planned power outages and network upgrade projects and received really positive feedback from customers engaging with the posts. In conjunction with this we also partnered with O2 to use anonymised mobile phone movement data to maximise the number of affected customers we engaged with ahead of planned power cuts. This helped us to reach a greater number of customers who travel to the area as well as live there to help them better prepare. We then used feedback from the Facebook posts to refine our approach as we scaled up. Using these methods we were able to demonstrate an increase in customer satisfaction scores by 2.1 points from 94.4 to 96.5 in this area as well as reaching over 27,400 customers through the geo-targeted communications.
- Coordination of street-works with other utilities and working collaboratively together avoids disruption to our customers and helps to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction levels. Within the last year we’ve trialled practical approaches to coordinate a successful cross-utility approach which also reduces costs as well as time and disruption. This way of working has achieved a 98.5% customer satisfaction level over the 462 collaborative jobs, and helped to avoid 357 days of disruption.
- We’ve enhanced our Open Data offering to include the launch of our new Open Data portal. This has been based on stakeholder feedback and empowered stakeholders to view data in a way that suits them. This has helped to drive forward our goals for Net Zero by supporting more LCTs and facilitating open innovation. We are the first DNO to publish our datasets via a portal covered by an internationally recognised open data licence – “Truly Open” meaning anyone can use the datasets, including for commercial purposes. 34 datasets have been made available in six formats, including graphical representations, prioritised based on the needs of stakeholders. In excess of 2,600 downloads and 914,000+ API calls (5,000 on average per day) since launching the Open Data Portal.
As the UK transitions to Net Zero and more people shift to zero emission electric vehicles, it is estimated around 1.35 million drivers with disabilities across the UK will be reliant on public charging infrastructure. UK Power Networks has formed a partnership with national charity Motability to help disabled drivers make the switch to electric vehicles.
Disabled motorists who do not have access to off-street parking will require on-street charging solutions as they transition to EVs. These motorists will have specific needs, with limited flexibility on where they can park and accessibility concerns for charging solutions.
To ensure no one gets left behind in the transition to net zero, UK Power Networks is working with Motability to identify the specific needs of disabled EV drivers who park on-street to ensure they have the infrastructure they need to charge their electric cars.
The project will map out where charging infrastructure is needed to support drivers with disabilities. The maps will be developed with local authorities to inform their Local Area Energy Plans. Enable is working closely with a number of forward thinking local authorities to identify and address the key barriers preventing drivers with disabilities making the switch to EVs. Key factors include access to and accessibility of charge points near their home and the associated lack of information for prospective drivers looking to switch.
Uncovering the needs of disabled EV drivers and identifying the locations of disabled parking bays will allow for better cooperation with local authorities and targeted investment in public infrastructure in the right places.
Catherine Marris, Head of Innovation at Motability, said: “As a national disability charity, we welcome UK Power Networks’ ground-breaking research that will ensure the involved local authorities can meet the mobility needs of disabled drivers in time for the upcoming energy transition. There is a robust commercial and social case for ensuring that future electric vehicle charging infrastructure is accessible for all and we are pleased to be a part of this inclusive and forward-thinking project, which will help inform our own UK-wide initiatives on accessible charging.”
UK Power Networks provides maps of our network to third parties to our cables to keep them safe while digging on site. We provide maps to a range of stakeholders from other utilities, contractors and developers to the public and landowners who are undertaking work near the network.
Occasionally, data recording can be inaccurate due to the historical difficulties of locating assets before technology was available and therefore increases risk to workers. To combat this, we have embedded an online customer survey into our network maps. To improve the quality of the network and information we provide, the survey results are now incorporated into our geographic information system (GIS) and are accessible on our web app (GSA). The information is displayed on a heat map to ensure those using the map can fully understand the data. Furthermore, the GIS team actively use the GSA application to determine any issues with the network data and work to correct it.
Feedback from customers and users in the area where the survey was trialled was positive and as a result the solution was rolled out across our whole network area, improving the safety of thousands of people and the data inaccuracy on our network.
We have recently unveiled our DigSafe device – a new learning tool designed to reduce accidents where builders come into contact with electrical cables. It uses a shovel that was previously involved in a real-life incident which lights up and creates a realistic bang when an exposed mock cable is hit. The new educational tool is designed to prompt conversations about safety and is used as part of a set which can also be converted to show similar dangers around overhead cables. Our staff follow up the demonstration with advice around the importance of careful planning.
Nathan Hughes, a safety advisor at UK Power Networks, said: “Working as a builder near high voltage electrical equipment, whether they be underground cables, overhead lines or electricity substations can place employers and employees at risk of serious injury – if the risks are not properly considered and time is not taken to plan ahead.
“We regularly focus on safe working with professional and industry groups at events, but it has helped us hugely to have a simple but effective learning tool which demonstrates the impact of a cable strike with such clarity.
“Alongside this is a model digging site with a safety barrier, where an exposed electricity cable can be deliberately struck. Every time the cable is touched, it sets off a massive bang and flash to replicate what contact with electricity can look and sound like.
“We got a really positive response when we tried out the new set at a recent event, it was a big success and everyone appreciated the importance of the safety message behind it.”