These three issues form the basis of the enormous challenge facing industry, government and customers. How do we provide the power the country needs, while reducing carbon emissions, at a reduced cost? Innovation is helping to provide the answers, and the power networks that transport energy from generators to homes have a huge role to play.
To achieve carbon reduction targets, we need to move away from fossil fuels – like gas and petrol to power our heating and our cars. That means more renewable or nuclear-generated electricity. As a result of this shift, the Department of Energy and Climate Change predicts that by 2050, the country will be using twice as much electricity as it did in 1990.
Higher electricity use would traditionally mean higher cost – particularly where the networks are concerned. Electricity North West is one of the 14 local power network operators in Great Britain providing power to almost 2.5m properties and businesses from Manchester to Cumbria.
Doubling the size the North West network alone to cope with this predicted increase in demand would cost more than £9bn – a cost that would have to be met by customers through their bills. Times that by 14, and you can see why that’s totally unacceptable to customers.
Electricity North West is using innovation to turn the problem on its head. Instead of continually growing to meet demand, we’re investing in new ways to manage and challenge demand.
These innovations can either be about using new and emerging technology to solve problems, or finding ways to encourage customers to change how they see and use energy for the better.
We’ve invested £29m in innovation projects over the past five years – from clever bits of kit in substations reducing the length of power cuts, to community engagement to promote energy efficiency through our Power Saver Challenge scheme. Innovation helps us make more of the infrastructure we already have and importantly keeps costs low while improving service levels.
Two big industry innovations are smart grids and smart meters. Smart grids allow networks to manage the flow of electricity more effectively. Smart meters help customers see exactly how much and when they’re spending on energy.
Innovation can help put knowledge and power in the hands of customers. As we continue to innovate to develop smart technology, we also need to encourage smart customers who fully understand their energy use and are able to make additional savings by adapting their behaviour.