Visit from UKPN
- Meeting of Overview and Scrutiny Commission, Thursday, 8th September, 2022 10.00 am (Item 64/22)
- View the background to item 64/22
To receive a presentation from UKPN on contingency plans for power outages and coping with demand for new properties and infrastructure.
Representatives from UK Power Networks (UKPN), Michael Horwood - Public Affairs Manager, Ian Turpin - Strategic Planning Engineer for Norfolk and North Cambridgeshire, and Jose Barros - Strategic Planning Engineer for Breckland, gave a joint presentation with an overview on Electricity Infrastructure to the Members of the Commission.
Mr Horwood explained that they specifically covered the area of the East of England, part of the Southeast and most of London, around 8.3m properties. He explained the complexities surrounding the transmission of electricity, distribution, and suppliers and that the cost of using the networks was included in energy bills, billed by the energy suppliers. He explained that power cuts to the network could happen at any time for any number of reasons and were a priority to fix, although he stated that power cuts were now much less of an issue than it had been in the past as the quality of the provision had improved over the years.
To report a power cut, residents should call the number 105, a free of charge number to connect and call from any mobile or landline – similar to 101 for the police. Residents could also check www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk to view details on any power cut and check for updates, expected time of repair, how many properties were affected and the reason for the power cut. UKPN had reduced the impact on power cuts year on year and today, customers connected to the network on average would experience a power cut for appx 28 minutes per year, compared to 64 minutes in 2010/11.
UKPN held a Priority Services Register to provide those in need with extra help throughout a power cut. The Priority Services Register was free to register and no cost to the individual or council for any assistance provided. It offered tailored support if needed such as home visits, hot meals, or keeping friends and relatives updated.
Mr Turpin stated that one of the biggest challenges ahead would be to meet the Net Zero Carbon Emissions objectives with three main challenges which included renewable generation, electric vehicles and heat electrification.
Mr Horwood explained how the electricity network had been upgraded to cater for increased demand, which could be through two ways:
1. Natural growth:
· As existing houses and businesses continued to use more electricity for low carbon technology including electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar panels, UKPN monitors the load on the network and increased capacity in line with forecasts about use on the network by existing properties.
· These investment costs were paid for within the UKPN part of the average domestic electricity bill. Despite the current rising costs of energy bills, this part of the overall bill remained in the £80s this current year.
2. Customers increasing their electricity supply (connections)
· If a single customer wished to increase their electricity supply above their property’s standard connections agreement or they required a new connection, they could request UKPN for such work. For example, this could be developers building a new housing development or a domestic homeowner requiring additional supply.
· The cost of upgrading the network, if required (following a UKPN assessment), was paid for by the customer requesting it, rather than ‘socialised’ on everyone’s electricity bill. The cost could vary depending on whether an upgrade to the cables or local substation was required but followed a standard charging methodology.
· There were some exemptions – for example upgrading (generally older) domestic properties if they wished to install a slow electric vehicle charger for home use (upgrading from 60amps to 100amps fuse board, or upgrading the wider network if necessary)
In terms of power supplies, the Breckland area was divided into three zones:
· North-Western area – primarily supplied from the Swaffham grid
· Eastern Area – supplied from Sall, Earlham and Trowse grids
· Southern Area – supplied from Thetford and Diss grids.
In order to model the uncertainties in the pathway to a zero-carbon economy, UKPN had developed a set of Distribution Future Energy Scenarios (DFES) describing the evolution of demand and generation across UKPN’s licence areas out to 2050. They were also spending approximately £20m on monitoring technology at a number of substations across the network to review the take up of low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles in order to inform their investment plans. This could be viewed at the following link: www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/dfes-2022
Councillor Atterwill stated that there had been a power outage in Swanton Morley last winter which had caused major disruption to the village over a number of days but felt that this had been handled extremely well and temporary electricity with mobile generators had been provided until the issue had been fixed. He felt that overall, the provision of the service remained excellent but had been let down by the communication with the community. Residents were not aware of what was happening, the only reason that that the community had been kept up to date was that he himself had taken time to speak to the senior engineer on site and then relayed the information via social media and spoke to the residents himself. He asked if such communication could be improved.
Councillor Atterwill explained that he worked in the electricity industry and understood a lot of the challenges and issues faced by UKPN. He said that there were approximately 16,500 homes within the Breckland area that currently used oil central heating which was not sustainable and felt this in time would move to electric sourced heating and together with extra charging for electric vehicles would increase demand for electricity. He felt that UKPN should devise a more proactive programme to upgrade 60amp supply to 100amp, specifically across rural areas so that they all had a minimum of 100amp supply. He asked what communication UKPN had in place with the suppliers and what could be done to streamline that process to make it less stressful for customers.
Mr Turpin stated that UKPN had asked for some funding for an off-grid gas programme of reinforcement work of approximately £50m and were waiting for approval from OFGEM, if this request proved successful, it would enable investment for upgrade over the next 5 years.
Councillor Atterwill asked if UKPN felt that there would be a time when 100amp would be insufficient for household demand. Mr Turpin stated that, depending on the size of the house, 100amp would be sufficient to cope but it remained something that they would monitor.
Councillor Bambridge asked about the capacity and upgrading of networks across the region with the need to bring more industry into the area for growth and more new homes planned. Mr Barros confirmed that upgrades were planned but that there was currently sufficient capacity for residents and business needs. Each request was looked at individually to assess provision and demand. If a customer requested more than could be provided by the network at the time, this could be upgraded or provided by different means. The current regulations were that the customer would pay for any extra work needed to provide sufficient supply.
Councillor Turner said that there had been a power cut in Shipdham and Yaxham two years ago which had caused a power outage for five days over the Christmas period which had been very unfortunate. However, she thanked UKPN for the work involved to fix the issue as soon as possible, everything that could have been done was done, the communication between all had been good, and UKPN had worked well with the village emergency committee. Councillor Turner also stated that financial compensation had been offered to effected residents along with a donation to the Parish Council which remained held in a fund for future emergencies, and if everyone worked together the best outcome could be achieved.
Councillor Brame asked how flexible UKPN were on the five-year plan they had in place and if they felt they could adapt to changes and increased demand in alternative, ever changing, energy provision. Mr Horwood explained that it had previously been an eight-year plan but had been changed to a five-year plan to ensure relevance. In addition, they also had something in place called ‘uncertainty mechanisms’ which allowed them to adapt to changes in technologies along the way.
The Chairman pointed out that UKPN was a very profitable business and he asked what could be done to influence UKPN in terms of plans and upgrades if it was felt that something could be done to improve things in the Breckland area. Mr Horwood explained that UKPN were developing a proposal in their business plan to create a Local Area Energy Planning Team which was a mechanism that was being developed with Government to help Local Authorities facilitate decarbonisation in their areas through creating something called a Local Area Energy Plan. This was where the Council, through its visibility of future developments and its own ambitions to achieve targets, could build this into the plan and would subsequently allow UKPN to invest in the infrastructure needed ahead of time to assist in supporting local development to achieve it at the right time. They were very keen to work with Energy Officers from Local Authorities to achieve this.
The Deputy Chief Executive, Rob Walker, introduced Executive Director Steve James, as the best point of contact for UKPN in this area and said that Breckland Council were keen to see economic growth into the district and were perceptive to provision to make this happen and had the necessary requirements in place to invite investors into the area and not lose these investors to other areas that already had the necessary power provision in place.
The Chairman thanked UKPN for their informative presentation and said that he looked forward to working with them as a Council in the future.