Northern Powergrid begins next stage of £83m smart grid project

Electrical distribution firm Northern Powergrid has begun work on the next phase of its £83m smart grid programme, which aims to future-proof its network in preparation for the rapid growth of low-carbon technologies.

The programme has now moved past the proof of concept phase following the successful trial of a new platform which will replace Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) at the firm’s major substations, Northern Powergrid announced today (August 17).

The modernised platform, which is set to be installed at 860 substations at a cost of £15m, will act as an interface to the electrical plant within a substation, marshalling alarms, plant status and data regarding voltage, current and power. It will allow control engineers to operate equipment such as circuit breakers and tap changers within the substation, enabling them to undertake more advanced control schemes.

The project is anticipated to deliver savings of up to £500m to consumers by 2031 by reducing requirements for traditional grid reinforcements. These cost savings depend on the uptake of technologies such as electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps and renewable generation.

Northern Powergrid’s head of smart grid implementation Mark Nicholson said the next phase of the project will be “a significant and technically challenging operation” which will draw on many of the firm’s specialist technical functions.

“The advantage at the end of this work will be infrastructure that will enable us to operate our network in a more flexible way to deliver more value for our customers through smarter, more efficient and cost-effective services,” Nicholson added.

In addition to the RTU upgrades, the programme will see Northern Powergrid:

  • Install high-bandwidth digital communications links to more than 860 major substations and 7,200 secondary substations, replacing old analogue links.
  • Replace transformer monitoring control units in 750 major substations and the equipment that allows them to control voltage.
  • Install monitoring equipment for the first time in 1,300 secondary substations and obtain data from 2,000 existing sites.
  • Create new data warehouses to process data from substations and from domestic smart meters.

DSO drive

The move from Northern Powergrid, which operates more than 8,000 substations, underpins its transition into a distribution system operator (DSO).

The firm’s head of strategy and innovation Jim Cardwell previously told edie’s sister title Utility Week that upgrading the network in a holistic, coordinated way will help Northern Powergrid to take a “whole system view of optimisation”.

“There’s been other instances where DNOs have targeted different features of this end-to-end process but the upgrading and the future-proofing we’re doing on the whole estate we think is pretty unique,” Cardwell explained.

The company has established a dedicated smart network policy and development team to coordinate the work, which will be carried out by its team of nearly 100 specialist engineers. The project is due to be completed at the end of the current RIIO ED-1 price control in 2023.

Sarah George

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