UK Power Networks (UKPN) portal, Smart Connect, has hooked up more than 10,000 electric car chargers to the network in its first year. Head of customer service and innovation, Ian Cameron, explains both its acceleration of low carbon technology applications and how UKPN plans to create capacity to accommodate new devices.

Launched in February 2021, Smart Connect, has slashed notification time for installers from ten days to just a few seconds across London, the south east and east of England. Its estimated that the portal has saved 6,000 working hours for UKPN connections staff by automatically approving 73% of the more than 19,000 applications made in the past 18 months.

However, as well as processing EV chargers, recently upgraded functionality allows installers to submit applications for other low carbon technologies including heat pumps, batteries and solar panels. As such, some 5,000 household solar installations, more than 900 electric heat pumps and 265 domestic batteries have been approved through Smart Connect to date.

The portal can now also accept applications where multiple low carbon technologies are being installed at the same household – with more than 1,000 applications submitted using this new functionality and around half rapidly approved.

“Millions of electric cars and heat pumps will connect to local electricity networks over the next decade,” Neil Madgwick, head of service delivery at UK Power Networks said. “We want to make sure they can do that quickly and easily.

“Through tools like Smart Connect we’ll make it possible – whether we’re working with installers or directly with consumers – for them all to connect at pace which will help the UK’s journey to net zero.”

Integrating multiple data sources

Described by UKPN head of customer service and innovation, Ian Cameron, as a “one-stop-shop to connect residential low carbon technologies”, Smart Connect is a self-service web portal which automatically assesses network connection applications and provides an answer for the customer within seconds.

“The portal integrates a number of internal and external data sources such as electricity network maps and the Energy Network Association’s databases of certified devices to minimise the amount of manual data entry customers need to do to complete the form,” he told Utility Week Innovate. “This means customers no longer need to find and provide as many details, only the make and model of the technology they want to install.

“Based on information submitted by installers, we can automatically determine whether the connection can be approved and proactively contact customers to arrange an upgrade to their electricity supply if required,” he added. “Installers can also see the current status of multiple applications at the click of a button.”

Anyone installing a new low carbon technology, such as an electric vehicle charge point, heat pump or solar panels, in their home is required to inform the electricity network. In the past this was done by a qualified installer who would submit paper forms with significant amounts of detailed information on behalf of the customer.

“This is often challenging and time consuming as most customers aren’t familiar with or know where to find required details such as their meter point administration number – the unique address code for every electricity meter – which is used to pinpoint their location on the network,” Cameron continued.

“As the number of EVs connecting to our network continues to rise, we needed a smarter, quicker way to process applications and ensure our customers get the best possible experience,” he added. “We developed Smart Connect in house and have already seen it pay for itself, unlocking connections in a cost-effective and fast way, ensuring those who want to connect green technology can.

“Costs to serve each application are also significantly reduced to process connections through Smart Connect, money that can be invested back into supporting our customers.”

Creating capacity

However with a streamlined application processes and increased uptake of low carbon tech comes the need to reenforce the network to cope with demand load growth. National Grid, for example, has embarked on building 32.5km worth of “Power Tunnels” to facilitate new developments at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms alongside broader EV uptake.

“We are trialling new solutions through projects such as Shift, that enables EV drivers to use smart charging to charge their cars when electricity is cheaper and greener whilst helping us manage our network more efficiently,” Cameron explained.

“We are also working with fleets through our Optimise Prime project to overcome the barriers businesses face when making the switch to EVs and exploring how they could earn revenue back from the grid through flexibility.

“All this ultimately helps create more capacity on the network, helping more EVs get connected,” he added. “Working collaboratively on projects like these and many others, we are gaining insights that help us better understand our customer needs and run our network more efficiently, deploy new smart solutions and invest strategically to build a smart grid that will deliver a net zero future for all.”

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