Northern Powergrid launches smart grid pilot in northern England

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GB distribution network operator Northern Powergrid is to pilot technology to increase the resilience of ‘micro’ areas of the grid.

The £2.5 million ($3.4 million) programme named Microresilience and believed to be a first-of-its-kind uses energy storage systems and innovative communications technology to maintain power supplies to critical infrastructure and isolated communities.

It is being piloted at two key locations, Newcastle’s historic Swing Bridge, and the remote forest village of Byrness, Northumberland, each chosen for the challenges they present to the resilience of the energy network.

“We work constantly to find innovative ways to improve our network and protect our customers from a power cut. This Microresilience project offers a blueprint to deliver the most reliable, affordable, and sustainable power possible for the parts of our network that need it the most,” says Iain Miller, Head of Innovation at Northern Powergrid.

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“Microresilience 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.”

The Swing Bridge, which spans the River Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead, uses hydraulic power to drive its original 19th-century turning mechanism, but the cables that supply the bridge with electricity are dated and need replacing.

Microresilience will see Northern Powergrid upgrade the infrastructure, installing a 100kWh lithium-ion battery system to provide power to open and close the bridge, ensuring its resilience to power cuts.

Byrness with its 50 homes is the last point of habitation on the Pennine Way with the electricity network comprised of a single overhead power line. The vulnerability of this cable to high winds and storms frequently threatens the power supply to the village.

Microresilience will switch Byrness customers from the local network to a 200kWh back-up battery when there is a power cut. For vulnerable customers or those medically dependent on electricity, this technology will provide additional reassurance for fault restoration, while in a major power cut, customers will be alerted that they are ‘on battery’ and urged to conserve power until a generator can be delivered.

Microresilience partners

Microresilience is being undertaken in collaboration with smart grid software company Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS), which will use the Open Field Message Bus (OpenFMB) protocol on its control platform to enable the real-time communication between the network and the Microresilience technology.

Northern Powergrid is also collaborating with Turbo Power Systems, a company that will provide an innovative power electronic device.

SGS’s Strata Resilience distributed energy resources management software (DERMS) will be used to manage the network as a set of separate microgrids, able to operate as ‘islands’ if a fault develops across the wider network. The project will show how battery storage can ensure renewable energy is available when electricity demand is high and help power these ‘islands’ when the grid is under pressure, for instance during a storm.

Microresilience is considered an essential part of Northern Powergrid’s £83 million ($112 million) smart grid enablers programme.

Microresilience will also prepare the regional economy for rapid growth of electric vehicles, domestic heat pumps and renewable power. In particular, the project should pave the way for innovative uses of electric vehicle batteries and provide valuable learnings for how they could provide new flexibility to the network.