We build and maintain the infrastructure that connects power sources to consumers.
This is not a passive infrastructure. Its design can influence and enable the viability of different power sources. As new possibilities come onto the horizon we are working actively to explore their sustainability and viability for distribution.
The electricity power transmission industry depends on the greenhouse gas sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). SF6 has proved itself the only commercially viable insulation material for circuit breakers at the voltage levels used in bulk transmission. Unfortunately it also has a high environmental impact. It is 23,000 times more damaging than CO2.
The whole industry needs an alternative. In the US, we are a member of the Sulphur Hexafluoride Emission Reduction Partnership for Electric Power Systems. In the UK we have joined with the University of Manchester in a four-year research project, to identify and evaluate environmentally-acceptable alternatives.
It’s a demanding project. Any alternative technology must be as effective as SF6 and have long term economic viability. It demands credible testing processes and effective manufacturing partnerships. There are high financial risks, but set against the environmental certainties we believe this is the right way to go forward.
Connect 21 is our US initiative to upgrade the power infrastructure to meet the needs of the 21st century.
We need to make the infrastructure more efficient. It’s estimated that some 57 per cent of the energy consumed each year in the US is wasted through heat loss, leaks and friction. By halving that figure over the next 15 years we could reinvest $327 billion in the US economy and create as many as 1.3 million new jobs.
We’re proposing a comprehensive renewal of our electricity and gas infrastructure, a renewal which will make that infrastructure more resilient against the expected increase in extreme weather events, and better able to accommodate new renewable energy sources. This renewal must be supported by a more flexible and responsive commercial framework, giving us the agility to respond to different and evolving customer needs.
A big issue with power generation, particularly renewable sources, is that power may not always be generated in the places where it’s needed, and yet if it’s not consumed directly it will go to waste.
By linking to other countries' transmission systems, we can reduce the need to invest in domestic power generation, and critically increase the diversity and security of energy supplies. Doing this helps the transition to a low carbon energy sector by integrating renewable sources.
Our transmission system for England and Wales is already linked by interconnectors to the transmission systems of France and The Netherlands. We own and operate a 224 kilometre interconnector between New England in the US and Canada.
Our analysis suggests that doubling interconnector capacity over the next six years (bringing it closer to the 10 per cent of capacity proposed by the EU) could have a £1 billion annual benefit for energy consumers in Britain, the equivalent of £3 million every day in lower wholesale electricity prices.
The EU, recognising the value to the whole of the European economy, has been developing better processes to accelerate the planning and deployment of interconnectors between EU states. We have been working closely with the Belgian national transmission operator on a pilot project (NEMO) running between the UK and Belgium, to address and overcome the complex economic and technical issues, and are now poised to move forward.
Smart Grid is a pilot programme, developed with the Massachusetts city of Worcester, to explore how a redefined relationship with energy consumers could help us realise our vision of a more intelligent, responsive and effective power grid for the 21st century.
For the 15,000 participating customers in Worcester, the program offers new energy management tools, “intelligent” devices (that can report and optimise their energy usage) and pricing options. The pilot scheme lets customers choose their level of involvement, but should help all of them to configure their consumption to suit their needs. This flexibility will help to smooth out peaks and troughs of demand while lowering their bills. Meanwhile features of the upgraded supply infrastructure will help us respond to these individual needs properly, as well as improving service reliability and our response to power outages.