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Guest blog: Powering up our streets – building the charging network for the vehicles of tomorrow

General Posted: 20 September, 2021. Written by Dan Clarke, Energy Networks Association

Credit: EVclicks


The UK is currently going through something of an energy renaissance. Entire systems and ways of thinking built up over the last 100 years are being challenged to bring us to a more sustainable and Net Zero carbon future. For the electricity networks, the mass take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) is one of the biggest drivers for this change.

The scale of our challenge is hidden in plain sight. Looking out onto our streets and wandering around our towns it’s easy to overlook the number of cars on the road as the convenience and infrastructure have become so commonplace. We must now switch most of these petrol and diesel cars, and the infrastructure around them which has built up over decades, to EVs in the next ten years.

To the UK’s energy networks it is clear we need to make things as easy as possible for customers and installers looking to connect to our networks. That’s why our innovation projects are pioneering new technologies to streamline the entire connections process and move it into the digital age.

To start to make this a reality we recently announced a new streamlined connections process, making it easier for EV charge points and heat pumps to be connected to the electricity networks. This includes vehicle-to-grid charge points for the first time.

As we deliver further electrification, and EVs become common place in homes across the UK, it becomes even more important let your local distribution network operator (DNO) know when new home charging infrastructure has been installed. Letting your local networks know about connected technologies - otherwise known as Notification Compliance - allows networks to accurately forecast and plan for shifts in supply and demand, and keeps energy flowing to homes, businesses and communities to keep our country moving.

An important part of operating a local distribution network is maintaining what’s called a Distribution Code. This is a set of rules and requirements for all connections to the networks, as well as managing how the networks are being used. Under the Distribution Code customers are required to apply to their DNO for any new connections.

We’re on the cusp of some really exciting technologies becoming integrated into our everyday lives, and these technologies can help keep our energy flowing. Automated intelligence and machine learning open a new world of possibilities for the energy networks to make the system more reliable and secure.

Digitalisation, combined with access to more open data, can help predict demand based on weather patterns, can analyse demand trends to improve demand-side response and blockchain technologies can enable peer-to-peer energy trading. Digitalisation like this will help us move from our old, linear energy system to a modern and de-centralised system where everyone can generate, store and sell green energy from the comfort of their own homes.
These improvements to our network are already happening. Our colleagues at SP Energy Networks are developing a ground-breaking mobile app called iDentify, which combines smartphone camera capabilities and Automated Image recognition to capture up to date asset information through field staff and crowdsourcing by low carbon technology installers.

The app and web portal being developed will allow installers to input data directly into an ENA form and submit their application digitally and, in some cases, receive an instant
decision. These developments streamline operations saving time, reducing errors and allows networks to quickly respond to ever changing events in order to keep energy flowing to our customers and communities.

The data that comes through to DNOs from our connections forms, as well as future data from the new digitalised processes, will be aggregated and made available along with open-source data from the industry and included in a new National Energy Systems Map. This map has been dubbed ‘a Google Earth of energy’ and will allow us to visualise network data from generation through to local wires and pipes in streets across the UK.

This helicopter view of the network, recommended by the government’s Energy Data Task Force and progressed by ENA and our members, will open new opportunities for investing in the networks, highlight areas for connecting low carbon technologies and allow networks to minimise disruption.

In short, for a customer to simply switch to an EV there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to keep these vehicles moving. As the networks, we need to make sure electricity supply and demand are matched in the system, which is why we’re laser focused on getting the most accurate picture we can. Notifying your DNO of an EV charge point being installed and letting them know what kit is on the network will go a long way to letting us realise our low carbon future.


Dan Clarke is Head of Innovation at Energy Networks Association.

About Energy Networks Association

We’re the industry body for the energy networks. Our members own and operate the wires and pipes which carry electricity and gas into your community, supporting our economy. The wires and pipes are the arteries of our economy, delivering energy to over 30 million homes and businesses across the UK and Ireland. To do this safely and reliably, the businesses which run the networks employ 45,000 people and have spent and invested over £60 billion in the last eight years.

Learn more about how the energy networks operate and who we represent.