UK supplier Electricity North West has secured funding from Ofgem for an ambitious £10m trial which could double the capacity of power networks without the need to install new cables or overhead lines.

The company plans to open up the half of the North West network that is currently reserved as a back-up and use it to distribute power to homes and businesses in the region to meet the increasing demand for electricity. .

The ‘Capacity to Customers’ project could, says the company, ‘save millions by reducing the need for costly new infrastructure to be built in the region and will support economic growth by providing more capacity to new developments, more quickly and easily’.

The project will run for three years from January 2012, and if successful, could be extended across the UK by other distribution network operators. This would lead to reduced energy connection prices and costs for participating businesses. The company predicts that, on average, a fault affecting businesses that sign up to its new agreement would only happen once every five years and only for a very small number of hours while the problem was fixed

Ofgem is providing £9.2m of funding for the project. A further £1.5m will be invested by Electricity North West and other partners, taking the total project value to £10.7m.

Steve Johnson, CEO of Electricity North West, said: “Our new Capacity to Customers project will explore innovative new ways to free up capacity and could be a major step forward for the industry as we move towards a low carbon future for the energy sector. “This project aims to get more out of what’s already built by bringing together new technology developed by our engineers and partners to transform the way distribution companies like Electricity North West operate networks. Half of the electricity network in the region isn’t used and is simply on standby to kick-in when there’s an emergency. This isn’t the most productive use of assets that cost billions to build. Our new project will release this latent capacity on a controlled basis.

“The only current viable alternative way to significantly increase the capacity of an electricity network is to build new infrastructure. This requires major construction work, huge investment and disruption.”

Electricity North West will be approaching large businesses in the region to support the project by giving them incentives to prioritise their energy use and to agree that non-essential parts of their supply could be cut off at short notice if a fault occurs, allowing the network to fulfil its fall-back role.