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Plans for Britain’s biggest ‘smart-grid project’ unveiled

If successful, the knowledge gained from the project could speed up the installation of low carbon technology, potentially saving homes and businesses across the UK around £8 billion in energy costs and 43 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Today’s electricity grid was not designed to cope with widespread use of technology like solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, where households can sell excess electricity back to the grid, or electric cars which consume large amounts of electricity.  With these technologies set to grow in popularity and solar panel sales hitting record numbers, it is vital that the electricity grid can evolve to withstand these extra demands.  The project will trial innovative technical and commercial solutions to improve the capability of the electricity grid.

The plans will focus primarily on the North East and Yorkshire putting the region and major cities like Durham, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield, at the forefront of the UK’s transition to a low carbon society. 

Smart meters, which enable households to monitor their energy usage, will be installed in homes and businesses participating in the project to gather the data.  British Gas is leading the roll-out of smart meters across the UK which means that findings from the North East and Yorkshire can be tested in other parts of the country as part of the project.

The total project is valued at £54 million with CE Electric UK and its partners seeking £28 million from Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund.  If successful in obtaining funding from Ofgem, the project team plan to work with household names to test new technology on the electricity grid.  Companies in discussion with the project consortium include GE, Panasonic and Nissan. Nissan, the manufacturer of the UK’s first all-electric vehicle, has based manufacture of the Nissan Leaf – the all-electric family hatchback – at its Sunderland plant.

A range of technology will be installed as part of the project.  It is expected that around 14,000 homes will have smart meters installed with approximately 800 also installing solar PV panels, 150 with electric cars and up to 1500 with either ground-source or air-source heat pumps.  Some homes will also install combined heat and power boilers – boilers which create renewable electricity whilst they heat the home.

If Ofgem agrees to contribute to the project, work would begin in early 2011 with the technology installed later that year.

CE Electric UK, the power network operator for Yorkshire and the North East, will be leading the project.  It will bring its experience of dealing with early adopters of low carbon technologies within its region and will be responsible for the trials of new network technology.

Phil Jones, President and Chief Operating Officer of CE Electric UK, said:

"This is an exciting partnership of low carbon thought leaders in the energy sector.  As for CE Electric UK, we have helped spearhead the integration of local generation onto the grid for a number of years and British Gas has led the way in adopting and embracing the new technology of smart meters for its customers.  This combination of expertise and technology will offer real opportunities and choices to customers in the way they use their energy and in the most cost effective way. 

"In our partnership we are looking to blend our know-how on networks with British Gas’ links with the customers to create a solution that creates a better outcome for everyone. Our region was the leader in the very early days of the energy industry. We want it to continue to be in the leading pack as we enter a new era of smart energy grids and low carbon technology."

As the UK’s largest energy supplier, British Gas will be responsible for recruiting and supporting customers involved in the trial.  It will install smart meters in customers’ homes to capture the data from the trial and will install other technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps.

Phil Bentley, Managing Director of British Gas, said:

"With tough climate targets to meet, and volatile wholesale energy markets, it is vital that Britain makes the transition to a low carbon economy – and no single company has all the answers.  British Gas is leading the way in smart meters in smart homes, but now we’re teaming up with a unique set of partners who will help deliver the largest smart grid project the UK has seen.

"As a Yorkshireman, I’m proud that Yorkshire and the North East will be a beacon to other areas across the country on how to adapt to a low carbon future – bringing British homes and businesses lower energy bills and a reduced carbon footprint."

Durham University will play a dual role in the project by providing energy research, via the Durham Energy Institute, and as a participant in the planned trials.

Professor Phil Taylor, Durham Energy Institute, Durham University said:

"Durham University carries out internationally leading multidisciplinary energy research across 12 departments and also has an ambitious University sustainability strategy.

"This project presents a unique opportunity for the University to work with leading industry partners to translate cutting edge research into high impact outcomes for the UK energy sector and to transform the University campus into a low carbon networks demonstrator of international importance."

EA Technology’s role will be as technical lead in the deployment of new technology onto the distribution network, and in the transfer of successfully trialled solutions into business-as-usual for CE Electric and other similar organisations.

Mike Lees, Technical Director of EA Technology Ltd said:

"The UK energy sector of today is significantly different to when the likes of the Economy 7 tariff was first introduced, but using better tariff structures to reward customers for changing behaviour is even more relevant now.  Through this project, we are hoping to demonstrate that in using innovative commercial and technical solutions between network operators, energy suppliers and customers, low carbon energy can be delivered in a more cost effective manner."

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