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UK network operator UK Power Networks is awarding flexibility contracts of 350MW with a value of £30 million (US$42.5 million) to 17 companies in the energy, tech and vehicle sectors.

The capacity, equivalent to the electricity generation of a gas-fired power station, is the UK’s largest to date, with over three-quarters of it coming from low carbon sources.

The awards include creative technologies from smart cable chargers to digital apps that manage electric vehicle (EV) chargers, which will harness distributed energy resources including EV batteries and demand side response.

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Indeed, more than two thirds of the new capacity (248MW) will come from using EV batteries and smart charging when they are hooked up to the power networks. The flexibility providers will now recruit up to 25,000 EV owners to participate.

“Britain is leading the world at harnessing the power of all these EV batteries that are going to be connected and using them for public good. Three years ago this market didn’t exist and now it’s offering as much capacity as a gas-fired power station,” says Sul Alli, director of strategy and customer services at UK Power Networks.

“There’s a long way to go and no silver bullet, but the way we’re using technology and data is going to be a big part of the answer to meeting the challenge of reaching net zero.”

UK Power Networks says in a statement that with this and its early flexibility awards, it is laying the groundwork for 2030 when an estimated 4.5 million new EVs will be connected to the network. If just 10% of them participated in the flexibility market it would create an additional 1.3GW of capacity.

With some of the new technologies pioneering UK Power Networks has awarded several contracts for seven-year terms in order to enable the smaller companies to secure funding to realise their ideas.

UK Power Networks’ call required a minimum capability of 10kW flexible capacity sustainable for 30 minutes. In the case of the HV flexibility, it must be delivered within 30 minutes of instruction.

The contracts cover the company’s three supply areas in London, the south east and the east of England.

UK Power Networks says it will continue to seek out innovative technologies to stimulate and grow the market for energy flexibility and help manage the growth of low carbon technology on the network. A further tendering process for flexibility solutions will begin later this year across dozens more locations, and several tender rounds are planned for 2022.