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Delivering DER: Behind UKPN’s ‘most advanced’ networks control system

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The Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, with a circumference of 27km, is the biggest machine man has ever built. But the electricity grid itself is often referred to as one gigantic man-made machine with hundreds and thousands of kilometres of the network. It is amazing that all the components of the grid are connected and are synchronised at a common frequency, from its spinning turbines generating power to the vast infrastructure transporting the power to the end consumers.

Like with every big machine, the quality of the performance relies on the quality of the monitoring and control functionality.

In UK Power Networks, the evolution of monitoring and control started in the 1950s when a plant monitoring box was installed at a London substation in Osborne Street. It was called ‘Anker Box’, and had a local display with six audible alarms. This gradually evolved into substations with local control rooms in the 1960s to multiple regional control centres in the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s there was a central control centre capable of managing the whole of London’s network with dedicated control engineers, working around the clock managing the network remotely.

The UK Power Networks control centre of today has come on leaps and bounds over the last few decades with advanced capabilities to monitor and control all of the three licensed networks using the suite of applications that are part of the Distribution Management System (DMS). This also includes intelligent automation capabilities to restore power quickly after a fault by automated network reconfigurations.

The recent decade however has seen more of a revolution in the electricity grid with a rapid rise in the connection of renewable generation particularly in the East of England region. With a continuous wave of new generation connections requests, various parts of the network started to reach their limits to accept new generation.

As this network constraint only occurs in the minority of the time, a new methodology was developed to allow new generation to connect in the constrained part with an automated system to curtail the added generation during the times of constraint. These type of connections are called flexible connections and the system that unlocks this latent capacity in this network is called Active Network Management (ANM) system.

UK Power Networks has connected over 117MW of generation from 2014 using the ANM system, with a further 150MW of flexible connections in the pipeline. The UK energy regulator Ofgem has put a major focus on using innovation to design and operate the network efficiently as an alternative to just investing in reinforcing the network.

UK Power Networks has developed new methodologies to procure flexibility from the market as an alternative to expensive network reinforcements, saving money for customers. Over the recent years, there has been advancement in energy storage and electric vehicles that presents new challenges to the network requiring novel methods of optimising and sharing capacity in the network.

The emergence and variety of these challenges meant that a highly intelligent ANM system needed to be developed that not only addresses the existing and emerging challenges, but that is also scalable to address future challenges. UK Power Networks has risen to the challenge and has initiated a strategic programme with an investment of £15 million to deliver a new capability in the business including a new ANM system that will be integrated into the heart of its world class control centre.

The new advanced automated control system will enable over 500MW of Distributed Energy Resources (DER), mostly renewable energy like wind and solar, to connect to the network cheaper and faster, which is enough to power more than a quarter of a million homes.

Electricity network operators have industry-leading experts in the power sector but over the recent years the power engineers are having to invest a big part of their time and budget of most smart grid projects in developing specific software applications that involve building IT hardware and software infrastructures.

UK Power Networks has tackled this problem head-on by taking a strategic and future-proof approach of building a standard and open IT system that is capable of serving multiple smart grid projects that require active monitoring and control. This vision is inspired by the revolution in the telecoms sector with the advent of smart phones and apps. Consumers now expect their smart phone to be equipped with all the basic technologies to be able to perform any type of activities be it sharing pictures on social media, online banking or making a phone call.

UK Power Networks has appointed an international consortium to build and deploy the ANM system. The consortium is formed of three companies led by Smarter Grid Solutions with Nexant and GreenSync, with each providing state of the art functionalities in dispatch and DER management, network power flow and optimisation; and commercial and market management. Amongst other benefits, the ANM system will deliver key smart grid capabilities such as distributed energy resource management, demand response management and network optimisation.

The Active Network Management system processes vast amounts of data to be able to run the South East of England’s increasingly dynamic network - one that is now host to over 165,000 electricity producers – both safely and more efficiently. By having the most complete view possible of everything that is happening on the network at any given moment, the system will autonomously make complex decisions to optimise the flow of available power. The benefits include reducing the need for building or upgrading existing infrastructure, speeding up new connections, enabling new markets and flexibility services, thereby reducing costs.

The ANM programme will accelerate the embedment of innovation into the business and will help in building the most advanced smart grid in the world. It will also enable the company’s innovation project Active Response to demonstrate how spare power can be moved around the network to where it is needed and help deliver the benefits of the Optimise Prime project which is creating the world’s largest commercial electric vehicle fleet demonstrator.

Adopting the key principles of scalability, interoperability, safety and security, the ANM system will be able to add a vast number of smart applications to it without having to build and maintain individual systems for individual projects. It will also take advantage of emerging technologies around big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence in order to solve various network problems. UK Power Networks is rolling out a number of initiatives to operate smarter and provide more value to our customers.

The ANM system will be one of key enablers to achieve a number of those objectives and accelerate UK Power Networks in its vision to transition from Distribution Network Operator to Distribution System Operator.

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Contributer

Tim Manandhar Lead smart grid technology engineer, UK Power Networks

Tim Manandhar is lead smart grid technology engineer at UK Power Networks.

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