ESO Electricity National Control Room celebrates 30th anniversary
8 Jun 2023 - 7 minute read
Since the ENCC was opened in 1993, by Carol Vorderman, then co-host of Countdown, economies all over the globe have looked to us as the cutting-edge example of how to operate a safe and reliable system.
This year, we’re joined by Robert Llewellyn, actor, presenter, writer, and host of YouTube channel, Fully Charged, which he set up in 2010 after being blown away by early electric cars and becoming fascinated by the future of clean energy.
Since its introduction, our control centre has ensured there is always reliable and safe electricity as we move megawatts around the country balancing supply and demand second-by-second, 24/7, 365 days a year. Our society relies on the electricity ENCC supplies – a critical service for the daily operations of everything from hospitals to households and telecoms to transportation.
What does the ENCC do?
The Electricity National Control Centre (ENCC) is Great Britain’s hub for operating the electricity system. Its role is to move electricity around the country from where it’s generated to where it’s needed in real time.
Every day, a team of experts work around the clock to balance supply and demand, making second-by-second decisions on who provides electricity at any given time and collaborating with network operators across the system to ensure a reliable and cost effective service.
Find out more about how we balance supply and demand here.
Notable events in the life of the ENCC
Since the introduction of the ENCC, we’ve ensured Great Britain has had power to enjoy notable national and world events. One phenomenon the ENCC must prepare for is the TV pick up effect.
Major events like sports fixtures, popular shows and royal events often produce a surge in electricity demand during natural breaks as people make a cup of tea, open the fridge, or put the oven on etc at the same time.
We even have an engineer inside the ENCC with a small tv on their desk to keep up to date with major events ahead of a forecasted TV pick up event.
Some notable events the ENCC has overseen are:
|1990 England vs Germany football world cup semi final||2800MW at the end of the penalty shoot-out|
|2021 England vs Germany Euro Round of 16||1600MW at full time|
|2019 Rugby World Cup Final – England vs South Africa||1350MW at half time|
|2020 Clap for carers||800MW after clap ended|
|2011 Royal Wedding (Prince William and Kate Middleton)||760MW for the famous balcony greeting|
|1966 England vs West Germany football world cup final||600MW after Geoff Hurst's iconic final goal|
Read more about TV pick up here.
From monitoring to appearing on TV
Earlier this year, we welcome Guy Martin into the ENCC to film our operations as part of the TV series ‘Guy Martins Great British Power Trip’. Guy explored what the country is doing to move to a more cost-effective and greener future and visited the ENCC to understand how energy is balanced in real time. He also witnessed first-hand the planning that goes into developing the networks of the future to enable our net zero ambitions. All episodes are available on All 4.
Watch a preview of Guy’s visit to our control room, where he gets under the hood of what it takes to balance GB’s electricity grid.
Adapting to deliver a zero carbon electricity system
Since the introduction of the ENCC, the energy landscape has changed unrecognisably and we’re using more electricity than ever before. GB’s population has increased by nearly 12 million and the use of technologies such as mobile phones, the internet, electric vehicles and, more recently, the growth in homeworking, has all increased demand.
We’re all also having to face up to the threat climate change poses on our environment and planet.
To ensure a cleaner, greener future for everyone, we’ve committed to operating a zero carbon electricity system by 2035, which is reliable, affordable and fair for all. And we’ve made huge progress so far – through the work we do, we’re now getting close to our ambition of delivering periods of 100% zero carbon supply by 2025.
One way we’re driving this change is by reforming the process for connecting to the grid. The existing rules were designed 20 years ago at a time when there were only a small number of large fossil fuel generators.
But as we move towards decarbonisation, there has been an unprecedented number of applications to connect to the system from a diverse range of renewable generation and storage projects. This has led to a big backlog, with new projects being given connection dates years into the future.
The actions we’re taking, outlined in our five-point plan and longer term connections reform projects, will allow a much larger number of renewable generation sources to join the network faster helping achieve our net zero ambition sooner.
Balancing the system using a greater number and more diverse range of generation sources poses new challenges for the ENCC. However, our determination to deliver a zero carbon energy system means we’re developing world leading solutions to bringing clean and affordable energy to everyone across the country.
Harnessing consumer flexibility – a world first
In the winter of 2022/2023, we launched the world’s first Demand Flexibility Service (DFS), which saved more than 3,300MWh of electricity as consumers and businesses did their part to reduce demand at key times. In total, this was enough to power nearly 10 million homes across Great Britain.
During the trials, as consumers and businesses started using electricity flexibly outside of peak demand periods, our ENCC responded by balancing the system through the fluctuations as the word looked on to see how effective this service would be.
We’re really proud of this hugely innovative pilot. It has paved the way for harnessing consumer flexibility, which will be a crucial part of the energy mix into the future. We believe consumers will play a vital role in the transition to zero carbon operations via flexible electricity usage and are looking to build DFS into a service that businesses and households can benefit from on an enduring basis. See which regions across GB reduced their electricity usage the most during DFS event here.
Operating the system of the future
As well as recognising our successes, we’re looking to the future and exploring new ways to digitise the system harnessing new technology.
We’ve been looking at how we can implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) into ENCC operations. This could automate the management of large amounts of complex data across multiple tools and deliver enhanced situational awareness. Not only will this improve the performance and efficiency of our operations, but it will ultimately result in lower costs for consumers as well as help deliver zero-carbon operations.
This work is part of our RIIO-2 Business Plan, but we’re also looking to future-proof our control room through one of our innovation funded projects. We outlined the Future Operator Console project at the Energy Networks Association’s Innovation Basecamp.
Changing demands on the system require new tools to support decision making, forecasting and the ability to ensure a sustainable energy network for the future. As we embrace a carbon-free future, these new tools can interact with the energy system and create long term value to industry and consumers.
Our Virtual Energy System programme is creating a digital twin of Great Britain’s entire energy system, forming a virtual environment to test, model and accurately forecast the impact on the system when adding more renewables. This will show what impact a new action has before its built in reality, saving huge amounts of time and money, and enabling improvements to be fast-tracked.
We’re also exploring how to harness new technologies such as EVs. We estimate that up to 37.4 million EVs will be on UK roads by 2050. Such numbers will allow EVs to play an important role in transforming the electricity system, with things like smart charging, vehicle to grid technology and charging behaviour key to helping bring down carbon emissions.
In 2022, we collaborated with the Octopus Energy Group on a trial to understand the viability of EVs playing a role in our balancing activities. The trial was the first of its kind, linking actions taken in the ENCC to end consumer’s EV charge points. It explored how altering charging and discharging schedules of individual households could offer us a greener, cheaper way to balance the energy system, while protecting customers’ preferences. View our findings here and watch our animation explainer here.