Image: UK Power Networks

UK network operator UK Power Networks has been given the go ahead for a world first pilot of 5G connected smart substation operation.

Project Constellation is aimed to develop a decentralised intelligence and control system at the substation level, with the substations communicating directly with each other via 5G.

This arrangement is in contrast to the centralised control and communication systems currently used by the network operators. The goal is to optimise utilisation of the substations in order to free up capacity and thereby support the growth in renewable energy generation.

The project, one of five approved in the latest round of regulator Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, has been awarded up to £14.4 million.

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The focus will be on two use cases. One will be to use the arrangement to provide resilience to distributed energy resources operation in the event of loss of communications from the central active network management system.

The second will be test overriding the loss of mains protection on individual distributed resource sites and dynamically updating the settings of directional overcurrent protection.

“We are creating a platform that will enable this smart solution to be deployed throughout the country and enable more renewable energy to connect quickly and efficiently,” says Ian Cameron, head of customer service and innovation at UK Power Networks.

“We already have smart control rooms and grid edge devices such as smart electric vehicle chargers, and now having smart substations in the middle pulling it all together is a logical next step.”

The project proposes to undertake offline trials at the Power Networks Demonstration Centre at the University of Strathclyde, followed by demonstrations in the network in the Maidstone and Lewes areas in southeast England.

UK Power Networks says Constellation marks a transformation in the way electricity networks operate. It will enable local substations to analyse millions of datapoints on how the network is running, meaning the network can reconfigure itself to safely enable higher volumes of electricity to flow.

It will also provide a foundation for many other smart solutions, further benefiting customers.

The company estimates that the solution could release up to 1.4GW of capacity and save consumers more than £750 million by 2050 if the project proves a success and is rolled out nationwide.

Other partners in Constellation include Vodafone, ABB, GE and Siemens.