Keeping up with demand

The energy landscape is evolving quickly – the future challenge for distribution networks such as Electricity North West will be keeping pace with that change, says Peter Emery.

He is chief executive of Electricity North West, one of 14 distribution network operators in the UK regulated by Ofgem.

It is responsible for maintaining and upgrading 13,000 kilometres of overhead power lines and more than 44,000 km of underground electricity cables in the region.

Emery says these are “exciting times” for the industry as new technologies emerge. “There’s an unprecedented degree of change but great opportunities. There’s a lot to be gained if we get this right,” he adds.

However, network operators also face challenges. Investment in additional capacity is currently made when there is a need, in accordance with the regulator’s rules.

Emery says that has worked well in an era of relatively stable electricity demand but adds: “As we are beginning to see the electricity sector is going to grow quite dynamically and at a pace.”

“We are in a different world,” he adds. And that means new approaches. Emery says: “People want capacity and we have got to be able to give it them quickly. That means getting closer to players and decision makers is vital.”

He says Electricity North West is talking to Ofgem – and is also building closer relationships in the region. It has “an embedded resource” in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, for instance.

The aim is to be able to make investment decisions as early as possible to encourage development and not slow it down, while also not “overstepping the mark” in terms of the regulator.

“It’s about how we help growth,” Emery says. “We are getting far closer to the decision makers to make sure we have real visibility on what growth plans there are in the region.

“That will enable us to make investment decisions early and in doing so help build confidence in the sector.”

Emery joined Electricity North West as chief executive in 2016 and is leading its £1.9bn investment programme.

He has more than 30 years’ experience in the energy industry having held senior roles at Esso, ExxonMobil, and Drax Group. He is also a board member of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership.

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