Best in CLASS: the future of electricity distribution

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As one of the world’s leading electricity distribution network operators, Electricity North West is at the forefront of decarbonisation.

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Electricity North West is responsible for maintaining and upgrading over 13,000 km of overhead power lines and over 44,000 km of underground power cables serving residents and businesses in north-west England.

It operates one of the most reliable networks in the world and has also earned a reputation for cutting-edge innovation. The company is currently developing a £2 billion investment plan through 2028 to keep it ahead of the pack.


The cornerstone of those plans lies in ensuring that the network helps the region and the UK meet its net-zero targets – and innovation is the answer.

One plan currently being rolled out throughout the North-West is Customer Loaded Active System Services (KLASS), a globally recognized project generating interest across three continents.

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At a cost of £10 million to develop, CLASS helps balance the electricity grid. Instead of increasing output to meet the peak in demand, the technology reduces demand by reducing the voltage by an imperceptible amount for a short period of time.

“Class makes small reductions in voltage that our customers don’t notice, but can save significant amounts of electricity for the region and our customers,” says Steve Cox, Electricity North West’s engineering and technical director. “We have deployed Class over the past three years and are now an important part of managing both the regional and UK power grids.

“As the UK continues to decarbonise, we need new technologies to balance customer demand and variable output renewable generation sources such as wind. Class is a proven technology, invented in the North-West, have been used successfully hundreds of times. The need for such technologies will become even more important as we move towards a low-carbon future. Even better, CLASS is carbon neutral and uses no real energy when deployed is not done.

“Class helps keep customers’ bills down and minimizes carbon, no difference in service. It’s a clear win-win. It’s also significantly cheaper than traditional balancing techniques.”

Since the roll out of the class, Electricity North West has been installing voltage controllers in its substations. Mr Cox also pointed out that all UK distribution network operators and energy regulator Offgame are now working together to see how the class can be deployed across the country.

Back in August 2019, a massive blackout affected millions of properties across the UK. Mr. Cox says that if all DNOs had used the class, not a single property would have experienced a malfunction.

“Traditionally, when networks experience a loss, the generation makes up the difference and replaces it,” he says. “Class turns down demand when needed, with very small changes that have a huge impact.

“The 2019 blackout was a prime example of how beneficial Class can be – they’re rare, but using Class will mean customers won’t experience a loss of power.

“As well as keeping the power running, our predictions say that if rolled out nationally, bills could be reduced to £1.50 per year for the next 25 years, which is equivalent to 26 million customers.” That equates to a savings of £1.7 billion.”

originally published on business reporter

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