Leading the North West to Zero Carbon Plan
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Leading the North West to Zero Carbon Plan

By Paul Bircham, Commercial Strategy & Support Director, Electricity North West

Paul Bircham, Commercial Strategy & Support Director, Electricity North West

Electricity North West proudly operates the power network throughout the North West of England, from the World Heritage Site of the Lake District National Park to the city centre of Manchester. Spanning over hundreds of miles, Electricity North West is responsible for maintaining and upgrading 13,000 km of overhead power lines and more than 44,000 km of underground cables plus much more. Investing £1m per day, the company has committed to investing £1.8bn by 2023 to ensure its network continues to be one of the most reliable in the UK, and the world.

"At Electricity North West, we are constantly developing ground-breaking, flexible solutions driven by the changing needs of our customers in a low carbon future"

As electricity consumption increases, the UK Government expects the need for electricity to almost double by 2050. This is being driven by target to ensure the UK is at net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That means using less fossil fuel like gas for heating, and petrol and diesel for transport, and replacing them with electricity generated from zero carbon sources.

Electricity North West is radically changing the way the network works so it operates as a smart network allowing supply to match demand and government targets are met. In Greater Manchester, the local mayor, Andy Burnham, has set an even more ambitious target for net zero carbon by 2038.

To help meet these challenges Electricity North West will soon introduce its multimillion-pound Network Management System (NMS) while in March, it launched its Leading the North West to zero carbon plan, where £63.5m has been dedicated to help the North West to decarbonise and pave the way for the growth of renewable energy.

At Electricity North West, we are constantly developing ground-breaking, flexible solutions driven by the changing needs of our customers in a low carbon future. Currently, we have in place a sophisticated digital control system that already gives our community a self-healing network which is one of the most reliable in the country and this will be upgraded using some of the most advanced technology in the world. After five years of testing and £20m worth of investment, we are soon to roll out our new Network Management System. The new system will provide immediate benefits for our customers and enable Electricity North West to support our transition to a zero carbon future.

The new system will have even more powerful self-healing capability as well as restoring power to customers faster in the rare event of a power cut and it does much, much more. Costs for customers will also be reduced which enables Electricity North West to avoid upgrading the network where spare capacity can be used to support customers’ growing electricity needs. As needs continue to change, NMS will also communicate with smart meters enabling the network to automatically know if power supplies are disrupted—at any voltage—and check they have been restored.

The network will also automatically reconfigure allowing more home generation and solar panels to generate electricity as well as allowing business customers to reduce bills or even earn extra money by using electricity more flexibly. All customers will also benefit use electricity in a flexible manner where it is cheaper and more convenient for them to do so, particularly when they are charging electric cars or using renewable electricity to heat their homes.

As the new system is introduced, NMS will help the transition to a low carbon society. The journey has already started and Electricity North West has bold ambitions along with being the first carbon literate distribution network operator in the world. Not only that, the firm has also committed to meet zero carbon by 2038 for its own carbon emissions which will see a 10 per cent year on year decrease in emissions, tying in with Greater Manchester’s targets.

As the North West’s power network operator, we have a critical role in leading the way to a zero carbon future. We are ideally placed to lead decarbonisation and its critical network companies are planning for the future and supporting local economic development as the region transitions to a low carbon future. Already, Electricity North West has made a number of changes to its vehicle fleet, installing rev limiters and limiting engine sizes of vehicles whilst looking at ways to reduce fuel consumption. It is also incorporating ways where offices can make energy savings and trialling specialist management systems where we are able to actively monitor the energy we are using. The results from the tests are analysed and changes made to reduce overall consumption.

We’re showing leadership in an area, we’re out there talking to businesses and customers about a low carbon future. Media interest has certainly increased and now we are seeing more and more customers wanting to know more about what they can do to tackle climate change and reduce carbon, which is pleasing to see. Customers expect an affordable and reliable network which has the capacity to support the low carbon technologies that are essential to ensure we meet our commitments as part of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It’s certainly an exciting time for us and our region and I’m proud that Electricity North West is leading the transition to a zero carbon future through innovative use of technology.

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