Creating a fairer and greener energy supply

Sustainable fuel supply is a complex issue. Moving towards greener sources can mean huge outlays for suppliers, and can cause reliability and access issues for customers, even in developed countries.

Researchers at The University of Manchester have been working with an energy supplier to help them move to renewable fuels while keeping costs down for families.

This work delivers on the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Key facts

  • Changed ENWL’s process of investing in the physical assets of the electricity distribution network
  • Enabled the more rapid decarbonisation of electricity networks
  • Contributed to the UK’s first actively optimised electricity network

As demand for electricity grows and power networks age, the cost of keeping up with demand while adapting the network for new technologies increases dramatically. Manchester’s researchers have worked with Electricity North West (ENWL), a distribution network operator based in north-west England, to help it better manage its network, improving sustainability and saving money for the company, and customers alike.

Cost reductions for companies and consumers

This research demonstrated how a new method could help to reduce the amount of energy used at peak times, which could result in cost reductions for everyone. Researchers developed a matrix that can be used to model the relationship between network voltage and demand, so that the application of the method does not impact the customer’s energy usage.

ENWL have been able to reassess how to upgrade the distribution network without incurring additional costs (both financial and carbon). The models and planning tools also allow ENWL to, in real-time, measure the demands on the network accurately in real time and keep power flowing smoothly. In areas where spare capacity is quickly being reached, this is an invaluable tool for ensuring the stability of the network.

The matrix that we developed can be used to model the relationship between network voltage and demand. We were able to demonstrate how reducing the amount of energy used at peak times, creating less of a strain on the National Grid, could result in cost reductions for everyone.

Dr Haiyu Li / Reader and an expert of "Power Systems Digitisation and Automation"

Addressing key areas for UK electricity supply

The team fostered a collaboration between the University’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Tyndall Manchester.

This addressed three key areas that impact electricity supply in the UK: 

  • smart distribution networks for managing supply with demand;
  • managing power flow fluctuations;
  • assessing the carbon footprint of different network investment options.

This has enabled ENWL to change its network investment policies towards making investment in the network, increasing its customer base and confidently connecting a greater number of renewable energy sources to the network, helping it prepare to meet the government’s 2050 carbon-reduction targets. For ENWL’s customers, these changes had the added bonus of reducing energy bills.

The technologies developed by the University could fundamentally change electricity supply in the UK. The research, now piloted and proven to be successful on a regional level, has been approved for rollout at a national level.