Many power users need high availability power supplies. Why can’t the distribution network operators provide them?

Answer by David Chapman

The electricity distribution network in most areas is characterised by being quite complex and also mature. It consists of overhead lines that are subject to damage in extreme weather, underground cables that can be damaged by construction work, and switchgear and transformers that may be quite old. Additionally, it is used and abused by a mixture of users, some operating heavy equipment, others running sensitive equipment. In turn, the distribution network takes power from the grid, which is subject to many similar issues.

Improving the availability of power from the network is possible, but would be difficult and expensive - and it would still not be good enough for some users. The cost of additional infrastructure would have to be reflected in the price of electricity, so all consumers would pay for a benefit that is of real value to only a small number of users.

Some Regulators have already expressed the view that those who require ‘high quality’ have to pay for the benefit - meaning that if a process or operation requires better quality than that available from the local infrastructure, then the beneficiary should finance the additional plant required. This is sensible up to a point, but, ultimately, industry and commerce will choose business locations where the network infrastructure is better, just as the road and rail communications are taken into account now.

At present, there is insufficient data available on the quality of power at different locations for a reliable assessment to be made.