[Skip to content]

FM World logo
Text Size: A A A
23 October 2019
View the latest issue of FM
Sign up to Facilitate Daily >
FM World daily e-newsletter logo


As distribution network operators (DNOs) transition to distribution system operators (DSOs), large energy users are in a strong position to contribute to a smart, low-carbon energy system, says Andrew McKenna. 


03 June 2019 | Andrew Mckenna 

Electricity networks have traditionally granted users’ connections with enough ‘capacity’ to meet their peak power requirements. However, a bakery might use lots of power in the morning but very little later in the day. 

In contrast, supermarkets require power throughout the day to keep refrigerators cold, but can turn them off for short periods with no impact to their business. So, the supermarket and the bakery – like thousands of other businesses – have hidden powers of flexibility.

The new model

At the same time, DNOs are transitioning to DSOs and looking for intelligent ways to balance the network. For Northern Powergrid, this transition involves an £83 million smart grid programme to prepare its regional economy for the rapid growth of electric vehicles, heat pumps and renewable power, while maintaining a reliable and affordable system. 

Large energy users can support this transition by flexing their energy use to help balance system peaks and troughs and deliver a more resilient, cost-effective and decarbonised network while also creating an additional revenue stream for their business. 

Network operators can also use this additional flexibility as a potential means of deferring reinforcement. For example, by maximising network capacity with flexibility, the potentially costly installation of higher capacity connections and cables can be delayed or avoided altogether. Large energy users, therefore, form a significant piece of the DSO jigsaw.

How it works 

For somewhere with flexible working hours and systems, such as an industrial site, this could mean shifting power-intensive tasks from peak times. 

Or, for somewhere with large demand use or storage, it could mean taking power from the network during low demand. For example, during a windy weekend afternoon when demand is low but wind turbines are delivering plentiful electricity, energy storage ensures that the clean power is not wasted.

There is no doubt that these activities will help facilitate a cost-effective transition to a low-carbon smart grid. So, like all DNOs, we are focusing on unlocking this flexibility. For example, the aim of our customer-led flexibility strategy is to work with energy users – whether single large customers or clusters of smaller ones – to flex demand profiles and smooth demand across the local power system.

This type of collaboration is our preferred route to DSO. Failing to work collaboratively could mean network operators and large energy users alike cannot take full advantage of the many benefits available. 

By working together, we can maximise every opportunity and continue to build and operate the network efficiently while unlocking value for our customers.

If your company is a large energy user you may be suitable for one of the many schemes run by DNOs across the UK.  

What are the benefits for large energy users? 

1. Incentives: By taking part in the scheme and making their flexibility available to DNOs, businesses can generate extra revenue streams through fiscal incentives.

2. Improving network bandwidth: By participating in the scheme, energy users can free up capacity on the local grid without expensive network upgrades. This can theoretically allow more bandwidth for businesses to install new assets on to the grid. For example, an EV charging point that attracts more customers.

3. Green credentials: 

At times of high network demand, the most polluting forms of energy – coal and oil – are called into action, as they can fire up quickly. So, by shifting demand away from these peak times, large energy users are not only helping to relieve pressure on the local network, they are also helping to decarbonise our energy system.


Andrew McKenna is commercial manager at Northern Powergrid