Apologies to our readers for a quiet autumn on the Sustainability First blog.  This was largely due to a concentration of work supporting the completion of Northern Powergrid’s smart grid project, the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR).

CLNR is a £54 million project, part-funded through the Low Carbon Network Fund, led by Northern Powergrid, with partners British Gas, Durham and Newcastle Universities and EA Technology.  It explored combinations of smart network technology, smart meters and appliances, and different customer incentives to find cost-effective solutions to operating an electricity network in a low carbon economy.  Sustainability First has been involved from the outset in several ways.  Northern Powergrid has been a key sponsor of our GB Electricity Demand Project, and thinking on the two projects has run in parallel.  We have provided an expert challenge role to the project to help ensure robust findings that take account of similar work done elsewhere.  And we have produced several one-off pieces of work such as our report on customer recruitment challenges and a report on lessons from the installation of smart appliances and monitoring equipment.

This highly ambitious project has finally reached its conclusion and published a set of key reports that set out its findings (CLNR-L246 - domestic and SME customers, CLNR-L247 – industrial and commercial customers, and CLNR-L248 – optimal network solutions provide a comprehensive overview).  They are all well worth a read.

There are a number of important findings of relevance to demand-side response.  DSR trials were successfully carried out with a range of industrial and commercial customers and Northern Powergrid will now be seeking to use DSR as the first choice option for addressing network constraints.  On the domestic side, CLNR was able to analyse the electricity demand profiles of a wide range of domestic smart meter users.  The analysis revealed a relatively consistent annual average demand across the different domestic demographic groups, with much higher variability within groups than between them, although there were clear differences on daily use profiles between different socio-economic groups.

Time of use tariffs were popular with and easily understood by domestic customers, where the majority saved money (60%) and average demand in the 4pm to 8pm peak was up to about 10% lower than the control group, who had smart meters but a flat rate tariff. Interestingly, though, there was little difference in peak demand between the two groups on the days of highest network demand.  The trial provided a safety net for the 40% that did not save money, and they were guaranteed to pay no more than a standard flat tariff.

The restricted hours and direct control trials tested customers’ willingness to accept a time-based restriction on the use of a smart heat pump or washing machine. The technology was proven, but the benefit from smart washing machines was limited and whilst the heat pumps successfully reduced peak load by 2.5 kW, there were technical issues and problems of customer acceptability.

These reports are now available for consultation and peer review until 20 February.  The findings will need to be assessed alongside the emerging findings from the other LCNF projects.  It is a mark of a ground-breaking smart grid project that it raises new questions as well as providing answers, and there are plenty of areas that now need further investigation as well as those findings that can, and will, be applied straight away.

Jon Bird