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Northern Powergrid unveils £2.5m 'Microresilience' smart-grid programme

The Swing Bridge was opened in 1876, and is considered an iconic landmark. Image: Tagishsimon (WikiMedia).

The Swing Bridge was opened in 1876, and is considered an iconic landmark. Image: Tagishsimon (WikiMedia).

Northern Powergrid has unveiled a new £2.5 million smart-grid programme, called Microresilience, which is claimed to be a first-of-its-kind.

It brings together energy storage systems and innovative communications technology to maintain power supplies for critical infrastructure and isolated communities. The network operator is piloting it at two key locations, Newcastle’s historic Swing Bridge and Byrness, a remote forest village in Northumberland.

Electricity networks are under increasing threat from extreme weather events and cyber attacks, said Northern Powergrid. It pointed to a report from the Climate Change Committee released in June, which warned that the risk of climate-related failure of the power system growing.

Additionally, the industry has already been the target of cyber attacks, with the system administrator Elexon being attacked by ransomware in 2020.

As such, building greater security and resilience is key to protecting communities and assets.

Microresilience “offers a blueprint to deliver the most reliable, affordable, and sustainable power possible for the parts of our network that need it the most”, said Iain Miller, head of Innovation at Northern Powergrid.

“[It] will enable us to test and build a more robust, storm-resistant, community-centric network, with customers, communities and locations directly benefiting from lower risks of a sustained power cut. The learnings from this project will also inform a wider roll-out of smart technology across our region and the UK.”

Smarter Grid Solutions’ Strata Resilience distributed energy resources management software (DERMS) will be used in the project, with the Open Field Message Bus (OpenFMB) protocol on its control platform used to enable real-time communication between the network and the Microresilience technology.

The network will be managed as a series of separate microgrids, which will be able to operate in an islanded fashion if a fault develops across the wider network. Battery energy storage will ensure renewable energy is available, even when demand is high and the grid is under pressure, such as during a storm.

“Our Strata Resilience technology utilises the OpenFMB platform to act as a bridge between the main grid and local energy needs, flagging when communities or key infrastructure should switch to its own battery-powered ‘microgrid’ when the main grid is down and reconnect when it’s up and running again,” explained Graham Ault, executive director at Smarter Grid Solutions. “This combination of energy storage, clean energy, the grid and smart grid technologies delivers much better outcomes for network customers.”

As well as working in collaboration with Smarter Grid Solutions, Turbo Power Systems will provide an innovative power electronic device for Northern Powergrid’s Microresilience project.

The Swing Bride is a grade II listed hydraulic structure that spans the Rive Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead. As part of the Microresilience project, the network operator will upgrade the supply cables the bridge uses and install a 100kWh lithium-ion battery system to provide resilience.

Byrness has 50 homes and is powered by a vulnerable single overhead power line, meaning high winds and storms frequently threaten the power supply of the village. A 200kWh back-up battery will be installed as part of the project, helping to keep essential devices on. In a major power cut, households will be alerted that they are ‘on battery’ and urged to conserve power.

The project forms part of Northern Powergrid’s wider £83 million smart grid enablers programme, helping to prepare for the growth of electric vehicles, domestic heat pumps and greater quantities of renewable power. In particular, the network operator expects the Microresilience project to provide learnings on the potential of vehicle batteries to provide flexibility and help keep the lights on.

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