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UKPN and SSEN look to pre-empt potential power cuts with new fault anticipation trial

UK Power Networks’ senior protection engineer, John Holmes, with a DFA-plus device commissioned at a substation. Image: UKPN.

UK Power Networks’ senior protection engineer, John Holmes, with a DFA-plus device commissioned at a substation. Image: UKPN.

DNOs UK Power Networks (UKPN) and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) are trialing a "futuristic" technology to prevent power cuts.

The two companies are testing the Distribution Fault Anticipation (DFA) technology, which is able to detect even tiny disturbances in the networks. It works at a high sampling rate to pick up on the smallest distributions and matches any abnormal waveforms with a catalogue of data, allowing the DFAs to identify the most likely causes.

UKPN said that during testing, the technology has already revealed disturbances on two separate cable terminations, which were identified as much as eight weeks before they interrupted power supplies.

The trial is being funded by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance and brings together a consortium of partners including the DNOs, Lord Consulting in New Zealand, Nortech Management Limited and Energy Innovation Centre.

Each DFA-Plus device – which is roughly the size of a small games console – can monitor several kilometres of cables, for both the 11kV and 33kV electricity infrastructure.

UKPN has installed ten of the devices at primary substations at sites including Aldreth in Cambridgeshire, Bungay in Suffolk, Canterbury, Chartham, New Romney, Broad Oak and Strood in Kent. Additionally, it is planning to install one more at Caddington in Bedfordshire and to order five more, it said.

Chino Atako, senior asset engineer at UKPN, said that the units meant there were now “more eyes on the network to see things we wouldn’t normally be able to see - which could enable a quicker, cheaper, more proactive approach to fault location and repairs".

“Traditionally, repairs are carried out after a fault which has led to customers losing supplies, but such events are preceded by pre-fault events we cannot usually see. If we could identify these we can further increase the reliability and efficiency of our network and cut the cost of repairs.”

SSEN began the process of installing the DFAs in January, and is continuing to rollout the 15 units on its networks across Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and West London.

George Simopoulos, SSEN’s Innovation project manager, added that systems like that being trialed can also reduce the impact on the environment by helping to pinpoint potential faults, “and thereby cutting down on the need to inspect large areas of overhead or underground cabling",

“The ability to monitor our network - and therefore pre-empt potential power cuts – greatly reduces the risk of unplanned outages, enables us to act quickly when issues are highlighted through the DFA system and reassures our customers that we are proactively using innovative systems to maximise the resilience of their power supply.”

As well as helping identify and prevent faults, the DFAs can also help post-fault as engineers will be able to use the fault passage indicators included to pinpoint the location of a fault. As such, rather than walking several kilometers of cable to discover where on the network the fault has occurred, the area can be narrowed down to just a few hundred metres. This could then reduce time and therefore expense of fixing faults.

Nathan Dyke, innovation engineer at the EIC, said the trial was a “fantastic example” of networks collaborating with innovators “to explore solutions that could improve customers’ lives and build an even more resilient energy network".

“I’m really excited to see the benefits that this technology could have for customers, especially for those most vulnerable, in preventing power outages to their homes. Now more than ever, it is crucial that supply remains uninterrupted and that we all stay connected.”

The trial is set to run for 12 months, finishing in February 2022 when the participants will share information with the aim of validating the approach that faults can be pre-empted by monitoring high voltage feeders in real time at very high sample rates.

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