Ofgem approves voltage-control solution that could shave many millions off bills

Up to £1bn could be shaved off UK consumers’ electricity bills following Ofgem’s decision to allow nationwide roll-out of the CLASS voltage-control system.

CLASS (Customer Load Active System Services), was developed by Stockport-based Electricity North West to help National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) with power network management.

Using voltage controllers located in substations, it helps balance spikes in energy demand or dips in supply by subtly and imperceptibly reducing the amount of power being used by electrical and electronic devices — everything from industrial to infrastructural to household.

During a 12-month trial, voltage controllers were installed at 60 substations serving 485,000 people. Detailed research carried out during the trial showed that customers were unaware of any changes in their electricity supply.

Regulator Ofgem gave its approval in December, stating: “Our updated assessment suggests that the net economic benefit is likely to be significant. Prohibiting CLASS would narrow the set of choices available to the ESO and mean consumers faced higher electricity bills than they might otherwise do.

“We consider that CLASS is one of the many low-cost, low-carbon and reliable technologies that will be needed to meet the ESO’s future balancing service requirements.”

The system was deployed over two years ago. Customers in North-West England saw electricity bill savings of approximately £7.3m as a result; these are in addition to the savings from lower balancing costs which have been achieved for energy consumers right across Great Britain.

Ofgem also said that, “Stakeholders including the National Grid ESO observed that CLASS could be deployed to reduce or, in some cases, eliminate the need for automated disconnection.”

Paul Bircham, Electricity North West’s engagement and regulatory strategy director: “The system really is one-of-its-kind and it will benefit all electricity customers, and if rolled out nationally, Ofgem have estimated CLASS could save customers in excess of £1bn.

“We do understand it’s a worrying time for all bill payers and we’re committed to doing everything we can to help ensure annual bills are kept as low as possible.”

The need to balance the UK’s power supply in clean and low-cost ways has increased in recent years as the country transitions towards using more and more clean, renewable energy.

The less predictable nature of solar panels and wind turbines means that the National Grid has to be able to quickly respond to sudden rises or falls in electricity generation or changes in the nation’s use of electricity.

The changes CLASS makes, though imperceptible to consumers, can make significant differences to the amount of short-term power required across large geographical areas.