Distribution Network Operators in the UK

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The first thing to understand about a distribution network operator is that it is an entirely different entity from an energy supplier. Your energy supplier is the body responsible for selling electricity to you, and there name will be on any bills you receive. A distribution network operator does what it says on the tin: distribute energy around your area.

Last update: November 2020

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Your local distribution network operator

Switching energy suppliers is the key to keeping your energy costs as low as possible, and thanks to us it’s simpler than ever. A distribution network operator, on the other hand, doesn’t sell energy directly to customers. Instead, it is a company which is licenced by Ofgem to distribute electricity across the UK. The distribution network operator is responsible for the cables and towers which carry electricity across the UK, taking it from the national transmission network or national grid and supplying it to homes and businesses. The fact that customers don’t deal directly with their distribution network operator means that most of us have no idea how the system works or who the distribution network operators even are. This article will explain how distribution network operators work, what their responsibilities are and how the work they do might impact on the average person.

What role does a distribution network operator play in the system?

The electricity system in the UK can fairly simply be divided into four different sectors, and a distribution network operator will sit in the third of these sectors:

  • The power plants which generate the electricity we use
  • The transmission network which shifts high voltage electricity across the UK
  • The local distribution network operators which then distribute electricity locally via a UK-wide system of cables, metres and towers
  • The suppliers who sell electricity directly to customers

The national grid is the transmission network which supplies electricity across the UK, and your distribution network operator then has the job of getting that electricity from the national grid and into your home or business. If you experience a power cut, your distribution network operator is the body which you have to call. They are responsible for the infrastructure which delivers your electricity, such as the following:

  • Transformers
  • Poles
  • Meters
  • Towers

CablesIn the event of a power cut you should call 105, a number which automatically connects you to the distribution network operator working in your part of the country. As well as being easy to remember the number is free to use, and your report of a power cut will enable the distribution network operator to investigate what is causing it.

How many distribution network operators are there in the UK?

The UK is divided into 14 separate district networks, which are run by six different distribution network operators. The map below was put together by the Energy Network Association (ENA), the body which represents distribution network operators, and gives a fairly clear idea of which operator is responsible for each part of the UK.

If you’re still not certain which distribution network operator covers the part of the UK you live in then you find out by visiting the “Who’s my network Operator?” page of the ENA. If you enter your postcode on this page you’ll be told who your distribution network operator is. Although your distribution network operator won’t be able to deal with any queries regarding issues such as billing, they will be able to tell you who your supplier is. This can be extremely useful if you’ve just moved into a new property and are uncertain regarding the supplier used by the last person to live or work there.
The chart below uses details from the Energy Network Association to set out which distribution network operator covers the various regions of the UK, and provides contact details for each:

Area Company Emergency Number Website Twitter Account
North Scotland SSE Power Distribution 0800 300 999 www.ssepd.co.uk @southernelecPD
Central and Southern Scotland SP Energy Networks 0800 092 9290 www.spenergynetworks.co.uk @SPEnergyNetwork
North East England Northern Powergrid 0800 668 877 www.northernpowergrid.com @Northpowergrid
North West England Electricity Northwest 0800 195 4141 www.enwl.co.uk @ElectricityNW
Yorkshire Northern Powergrid 0800 375 675 www.northernpowergrid.com @Northpowergrid
Merseyside, Cheshire, North Wales and North Shropshire SP Energy Networks 0800 001 5400 www.spenergynetworks.co.uk @SPEnergyNetwork
East Midlands, West Midlands,South Wales and South West England Western Power Distribution 0800 6783 105 www.westernpower.co.uk @wpduk
Eastern England UK Power Networks 0800 783 8838 www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk @UKPowerNetworks
Southern England SSE Power Distribution 0800 072 7282 www.ssepd.co.uk @southernelecPD
London UK Power Networks 0800 028 0247 www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk @UKPowerNetworks
South East England UK Power Networks 0800 783 8866 www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk @UKPowerNetworks
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Electricity 0345 764 3643 www.nie.co.uk @NIElectricity

What voltage is the electricity provided by my district network operator?

The electricity transmitted around the national grid is either 275,000 or 400,000 volts. This is too high for distribution by network operators, and so it is reduced by 132,000 volts at substations which are also called Grid Supply Points. After passing through a Grid Supply Point the electricity travels on to other substations, travelling along overhead lines or underground tables at 132,000 volts before being reduced, as it passes through each substation, to 33,000 votls and then 11,000 volts. It is then carried to local substations before being reduced to 230 volts for supply to homes and businesses.

What is the difference between the national grid and distribution network operators?

The national grid is the collective name for the system of pylons, power lines and gas pipes which comprise the electricity and gas supply systems of the UK. Any description of the system itself would also have to cover the engineers who keep the system running, as well as the technology which backs them up and the rules and regulations which govern energy supplies in the UK. The national grid carries high voltage electricity from power stations to substations and local networks, which is where the distribution network operators have a role to play in distributing that electricity to the end users.

How does the national grid work with distribution network operators?

Transmitting electricity around the UK safely and reliably isn’t simply a case of plugging the cables into the power stations and letting the electricity flow. The national grid and district network operators have to work together to ensure that the voltage and sheer amount of electricity flowing through the system is kept perfectly balanced at all times. If the supply becomes unstable it could damage the equipment being powered and even cause complete blackouts dues to power surges.

How do I connect my property to the power network?

If your property is not connected to the power network – something which usually means that it is a new-build – then you will have to contact the local distribution network operator as soon as possible. If you are engaged in the process of building the property then a reliable power source will obviously vital, and having the property connected to the national grid via a distribution network operator is always going to be more reliable than any generator or battery power.

Managing your energy supply

 

 

Who will connect my property?

The work of connecting your property to the national grid will be carried out by your distribution network operator. Most of the distribution network operators provide an online form you can use to apply for an electricity connection, and the distribution network operator will also want to see a site and location plan in order to provide a quote for the price of the work. It should be noted, as well, that the distribution network operator will ask for full payment for the work up front, so you should factor this in to your budgeting. Once you’ve agreed the price and paid it, the distribution network operator will put you in touch with a project manager, who will work to connect you to the network itself, and also liaise between you and a supply company once the connection is in place.

How much will it cost to have my property connected to the network?

The price will depend upon the specifics of your property and site, making it difficult to answer this question without knowing the individual circumstances. The following hypotheticals give a rough guide, however:

  • Your property is located next to a pole carrying an overhead line. The supply will need to be routed down the pole and then along trenches to the property itself. If you dig the trenches on your own behalf then the cost would be approximately £450.
  • Your property doesn’t have a pole nearby, so one has to be installed on your site, complete with a transformer. The cables from the pole then have to run over 35 metres to reach the house. A connection of this kind could cost as much as £7,000.
  • Your property is located in a secluded rural spot, which means that the distribution network operator will have to dig a length of road up to extend the existing supply to the edge of your property. This much work might mean you end up being quoted more than £10,000.

    What other expenses might be involved?

    Although the distribution network operators have the right to cross public land and highways in order to connect the network to your property, they cannot dig up private land or land which is owned by bodies such as the Forestry Commission, British Waterways and Network Rail. If your supply has to cross land like this then the distribution network operator will need to see a wayleave. This is a legal agreement giving the distribution network operator the right to cross the land, and being granted a wayleave normally means paying a fee to the owners of the land. The distribution network operator won’t strt working on your connection until all necessary wayleaves have been agreed and paid for.

    Where will the connection terminate?

    When you pay for a distribution network operator to connect your property to the network, you have to provide a meter box or other lockable box which will be attached to a wall, or mounted on a pole, in the position which the meter will eventually occupy. Although the distribution network operator will dig through any land or highways up to the boundary of your property, you will have to dig the trenches leading up to the meter position yourself.

    Where is the best place to position the meter box?

    For the sake of convenience it is best to position the meter close to the front of the house so that it can be read without anyone having to enter your property. The unsightly nature of a mater box means that you may opt to position it somewhere which is out of sight but still accessible, such as down the side of your property. The general shit toward smart meters means that, in a few years’ time, the traditional meter box will pretty much be a thing of the past.

    What if I want to generate my own electricity using solar power?

    One of the advantages of having solar panels connected is that you will be able to sell any excess electricity generated back to the grid. In order to connect to the grid, however, you’ll have to inform your distribution network operator that you’re having solar panels installed. The process is slightly different depend upon the scale of the solar panelling which you’re having installed:

  • If your system is only going to generate up to 3.7 kW, then the person installing it just has to inform the district network operator within 28 days of the system being commissioned. A small system of this kind is highly unlikely to impact on the balance and power-load of the local network.
  • If your system is larger than this then you or your installer will need to gain permission form the distribution network operator in order to connect to the grid. This will involve the local network being evaluated to ensure that it is capable of dealing with the amount of power your system will be producing. Id the local network requires some work to make it capable of dealing with your system, then the distribution network operator will provide you with a quote for the cost of this work within 45 days.

    Smart grids

    The grid is the name given to the system which moves electricity around the country, and the rise of digital technology has seen the emrgence of the smart grid. A smart grid is one which utilises the power of automation, digital technology and data to respond more quickly to changes in demand being placed on the grid. In addition, the smart grid will enable two way communication between the electricity provider and the end-user. The clearest example of smart grid technology is the smart meter, which constantly feeds data on usage back to the provider, but another example would be the kind of app which an end user can use to find out what percentage of the electrivity currently running through the grid comes from renewable sources such as wind and wave.

    The transition to smart grids

    The transition to a completely smart grid is one which will take place gradually, over the course of the next decade or so. This relative slowness is explained by the fact that transitioning to a truly smart gird involves the upgrading of potentially millions of separate components of the grid, including meters, power lines and controls.

    The difference between DNO and DSO

    A distribution network operator (DNO) is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure which keeps electricity flowing around the UK, between generators, via suppliers to end users. A DSO is a distribution system operator, which represents the next evolutionary stage of the DNO. A DSO will take advantage of smart grid developments in order to deliver benefits to end users such as quicker, cheaper connections, more access to green energy and innovations such as local energy market platforms and peer-to-peer energy trading.

    FAQs

    Can I switch my distribution network operator?

    No, you cannot switch your distribution network operator. Each distribution network operator is responsible for the network within a certain geographical area of the UK, so your distribution network operator is dictated by where you live.

    ⛔ How can I complain about my distribution network operator?

    If you are unhappy with the service being provided – if the power is frequently down, for example, or you are unhappy with a connection or repair – then your first step should be to contact the actual district network operator themselves. If you’re unhappy with the response, however, you can take your case to the ombudsman. Provide them with as much information and evidence as possible and, if you accept the resolution they propose, then the distribution network operator will have to treat the resolution as legally binding.

    Can my district network operator help me with billing?

    No, billing is an issue which can only be dealt with by your supplier. If you’re unhappy with the amount you’re being asked to pay then you should think about switching suppliers, which is easier than it’s ever been.

    ⚡ Can I seek compensation after a power cut?

    The distribution network operators are licenced by industry watchdog Ofgem. If there is a power cut and the distribution network operator doesn’t act to restore power within the time limits set by Ofgem then they may be ordered to make compensation payments. See the Ofgem site here./li>

To read more on this topic, check out these guides:

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Written by eleanor

Updated on 25 Nov, 2020

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