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How can we actively manage our network?

04/12/2019

We talk a lot right now about the constant increasing demand on the electricity network, and I explained a little in my last blog about our focus on flexibility which will be one of the ways we’ll cope with this. However, even with flexibility as an alternative option to traditional network reinforcement, we still need to be able to manage this sort of activity alongside everything else we look after on the network.

Over the last ten years, our business has connected a frankly mind-boggling amount of distributed generation (e.g. wind turbines or solar panels) to our network. I personally, have witnessed an incredible step-change that’s come from government incentives and subsidies driving changes in behaviours. That has all presented challenges for us not only on the sheer scale of connections requests, but also by the fact a lot of the requests were for areas with relatively low local demand. So much so, that parts of the distribution network started to actually export the energy generated.

Network constraints then arose in areas where the design limits were exceeded – either by generation from those already connected, or by the combination of existing connections and those seeking new connections. That ultimately led to those seeking new connections having to wait until time consuming network reinforcement works could be completed.

We knew we therefore had to find smarter ways of managing challenges like this, as we could see the demand was only going to increase and that our network was starting to be expected to do things it was never designed for.

So, innovating to better manage our networks and deliver against decarbonisation targets isn’t actually a new thing for us at SP Energy Networks – we’ve been working on this for some time e.g. via projects like Accelerated Renewables Connections (ARC), which kicked off in 2014 to establish alternative ways to connect customers to our network.

The ARC project used cutting edge technology known as Active Network Management (ANM) to exploit the diversity of renewable generation – after all, the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow! ARC therefore enabled us to free up un-used capacity in real time which allowed generators to utilise this to export energy. Those generators did have to accept that there would perhaps be occasions where they’d be turned down depending on other network activity, but this was obviously preferred to not being connected at all. And in a three-month period last year, one of those generators managed to export over 20GWh more than they would have without ANM – that’s the equivalent to powering 5000 homes for a year!

Can this approach be used across our entire network?

In short, yes – and we’ve already started that process.

In Dumfries and Galloway we have a local demand need of 110MW, but actually have 470MW of generation connected with a further 430 seeking new connections. This poses quite the challenge for us on a network that was designed to only serve a number of small population centres and the hydros! We did submit extensive reinforcement plans to the UK system operator (National Grid ESO) to allow this natural resource-rich area to reach its full potential, but our plans were ultimately deemed not cost-effective as it was cheaper to pay generators to curtail - i.e. turn down their generation - than to build enough network for everyone to export at 100%.

That’s when we then decided we could apply the ARC learnings to solve the problem.

After securing funding from Ofgem to do so, we’re now in the process of deploying ANM across 11 grid supply points in a single co-ordinated platform. This system will be one of the first significant technical enablers for us as a DSO by managing power flows in real time, and will also interface with our SP Transmission network as well as the requirements of the ESO.

We have a dedicated team in place to deliver this industry leading project, and are in the closing stages of a thorough procurement process that will allow us to quickly develop and deploy a central ANM system in 2020. We’re also developing a similar scheme in North Wales which will have the added challenge of managing power flows on an interconnected network…another UK first!

We’re engaging with the ESO to establish exactly how this system will interact with them, how customers will be compensated for their curtailment, and how we’ll ensure security of both the Distribution and Transmission network.

The roll-out of ANM will ultimately become a crucial tool for allowing customers to connect quickly and for maximising the capability of our existing equipment. We’re therefore committed to making this a business as usual solution, enabling us to deliver the zero carbon future our communities deserve.

Have a question on ANM or our wider DSO activities? Get in touch via dso@spenergynetworks.co.uk

Graham Campbell

Head of DSO

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