North East England Set For Smart Grid Trial

The North East of England could be among the first regions in the UK to pioneer a smart grid electricity system, following a proposed £54 million smart grid project by CE Electric UK.

The electricity provider will work with the likes British Gas, Durham University and EA Technology, and “aims to lay the foundations for helping British homes and businesses cut their carbon footprint, reduce their energy use and save money on a mass scale.”

“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,” said the supplier.

Funding Needed

However it seems that the project will only go ahead if it can secure £28 million from Ofgem’s Low Carbon Networks Fund.

If the funding is found, it will become the largest smart grid pilot in Britain to date with the installation of 14,000 smart meters in homes and business, across England’s North East and Yorkshire, the region that CE Electric UK operates.

It is thought that the project will also see 800 users installing solar PV panels, 150 trying out electric cars, and up to 1,500 users opting for either ground-source or air-source heat pumps. And some homes will also install combined heat and power boilers – boilers which create renewable electricity whilst they heat the home.

The 14,000 smart meters will enable households to monitor their energy usage, and will be installed by British Gas in homes and businesses participating in the project.

Smart Meters

Put simply, the idea of the project is to “test the impact of new low-carbon technologies, such as electric cars and solar panels, on the electricity grid and extend the learnings to whole of the UK using data from over 160,000 smart meters.”

As the project is focused on the North East and Yorkshire, it will mean that cities such as Durham, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield, will be at the forefront of the UK’s transition to a low-carbon society.

However the reality is that today’s electricity grid is not designed to cope with widespread use of technology like solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and situations where households can sell excess electricity back to the grid, or electric cars which consume large amounts of electricity.

So as the uptake of these technologies continues, CE Electric UK says that the electricity grid needs to evolve to withstand these extra demands. This project therefore will trial technical and commercial solutions to improve the capability

Infrastructure Changes

“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,” said Phil Jones, President and Chief Operating Officer of CE Electric UK.

“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,” he added.

The project comes as the UK government focuses on taxing carbon emissions. Energy secretary Chris Huhne for example promised a high price for carbon to drive business change. But some can’t stomach the idea of allowing companies to buy credits that allow them to pollute. They dismiss the idea of carbon trading as a “scam”.

One of the main ways the government is looking to lower carbon emissions is via the CRC scheme which applies to large energy users. However, it seems that many companies have failed to register, and others are not prepared for the act’s requirements.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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