COVID-19 Lockdown – A view from the world of electricity supply

Published on 24th April, 2020

Whilst collecting my thoughts prior to penning this blog, it occurred to me that there’s a strong parallel between what’s happening with the coronavirus lockdown and how the world looks from the point of view of electricity supply.

In the case of the pandemic, society is faced with an invisible enemy which can only be defeated if first we learn to respect it for what it is and then take suitable measures to keep our distance from it. In the case of electricity, we all know from a young age that it is invisible and needs to be approached with caution – and everyone with children will know the challenge of trying to stop your two-year old child from sticking their fingers in an electric socket. However, while no one has yet managed to find anything positive to say about COVID-19, the positive role played by electricity in society is undisputed – its’ presence in our homes, offices and factories is accepted as a safety hazard to be managed because of its huge benefits.

In looking at the supply of electricity to society generally during the current crisis, you will have noticed (I hope) that electricity is still flowing around the system. Life in lockdown is tough for many people but a general lack of power supply is not one of the many problems that are faced. Most people know that on one level this means that the power stations, wind turbines and solar installations are still producing power and that it is continuing to flow across the high voltage transmission system, down into the low voltage distribution wires and into our homes, offices and businesses. The people employed in the physical real worlds of power generation and transmission/distribution activities are deemed to be key workers and rightly so.

But as far as electricity supply in the UK is concerned that is far from the whole story.

Readers of a certain vintage will recall that the electricity industry has carried the principle of separation of its component parts to another level, not because of safety considerations but due to decisions made when the industry was privatised in the late 1980s.

The physical production and distribution of electricity is separated from the commercial functions of the industry in both legal and accountability terms, which goes some way to explain why electricity supply companies can go bust – as has happened a lot recently – while physical supply carries on uninterrupted. This separation also explains why companies like EnDCo can function as licensed electricity suppliers while having no physical contact with the business of power generation and distribution.

What then does a “non-physical” supplier do and how is it able to operate under lockdown conditions?

The core function of a supplier is to enter into contracts for the supply of electricity to customers and this includes – crucially for EnDCo – contracts for the offtake of electricity from small scale local electricity producers such as waste to energy producers (sometimes referred to as Distributed Generation). This entails taking responsibility for the processes of managing the meter points where power flows to/from the system and then to/from consumers and producers.

The network of agents or data intermediaries who ensure the right information gets to the right people in support of managing the UK system – and ensuring accurate invoices can be raised – is also managed by the suppliers who act as the focal point for the submission of data to industry central systems.

Contracts also have to be entered into for the supply of electricity to or from wholesale counterparties including both long term trades and short term markets.

Once contracts are in place, the huge task of reconciling contracted positions to buy or sell power with actual sales and purchases is carried out by central industry systems on the basis of data submitted by suppliers (and other industry players) and then communicated back to those same suppliers who are then responsible for settlement of final bills. This is known infamously in the industry as the imbalance settlement process.

All these processes are integral to the continued running of the industry. While it is possible and even normal for electricity (in real time) to keep flowing to consumers in the event of a sudden event – eg the failure of a supplier – in the end the bills will have to be produced and settled. This sometimes happens as long as a year or more after the actual flow of electricity has taken place.

Looked at from this perspective, it is not difficult to see how the work of a supplier like EnDCo can and does continue largely unaffected by the virus lockdown.

In common with many businesses we are maintaining strict physical distance by not going to the office, other than a regular IT “check up” to ensure all our system servers are running properly. Otherwise we carry on talking to customers and counterparties in the normal way, processing data, paying bills and producing invoices for customers in a timely fashion.
The world of video conferencing has become the norm to discuss issues as they arise with existing contracts, analyse opportunities to win new business, develop marketing strategies and generally keep the business on track as we would have done without the intervention of the coronavirus.

The most significant impact the current crisis has had on us as a supplier is to force us to review the way we operate and consider how we can take the lessons learned into the post COVID-19 world. A number of the new working practices that we have all been forced to adopt – reduced travel being an obvious example – can only be of benefit as we strive towards a Net Zero carbon target.

Whilst no-one would have wished the coronavirus pandemic upon the world, it may have provided the “shock” needed to make us all realise that we can address the environmental challenge we face in the medium term at the same time as we are tackling the here and now fight against COVID-19.

EnDCo provides independent and transparent access to the wholesale electricity market for independent generators and consumers. Our services include helping our customers to optimise their financial position taking account of their assets and market opportunities.

For further information, please email me at:

Les Abbie, CEO, EnDCo