How do I unlock extra capacity on the network as a DNO?

An innovative new project that establishes automatic switching points on low voltage networks promises to maximise capacity and help introduce flexibility services in the energy transition. Kelvatek and Northern Powergrid explain more.

The shift toward achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will revolutionise the energy network as the deployment of low-carbon technologies and distributed energy resources gains momentum throughout the UK.

With the rapid adoption of low-voltage connected technologies like heat pumps and electric vehicles, there is an anticipated surge in electricity demand. Concurrently, the integration of distributed generation sources like solar photovoltaics is likely to exert additional pressure on the network. Consequently, substantial investment in load-related infrastructure is foreseen to accommodate this transition.

Kelvatek and Northern Powergrid are partnering to tackle this challenge by exploring the use of new digital and smart LV automation technology as part of the GridLINK project, which is funded by energy network users and consumers through the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), an Ofgem programme managed in partnership with Innovate UK. Currently in the discovery phase, GridLINK represents an innovative new use of digital solutions and hardware aimed at bringing automation to low-voltage distribution networks to release capacity and make them more resilient.

“In the face of increasing demand and the changing energy landscape, Northern Powergrid and Independent Distribution Network Operators (IDNOs) are using projects such as GridLINK to navigate the delicate balance of maximising existing network capacity while keeping costs low for consumers,” explains Barry Forster, account director, Kelvatek. “We firmly believe that leveraging the combination of digital solutions and smart technology provides the foundation for addressing many of the network’s challenges.”

Building on the success of previous innovations, GridLINK will establish multiple automatic switching points along low-voltage power cables linking consumers to the nearest substation. Using a new digital support system, the project will target the installation of underground smart switching technology and explore several techniques, including machine learning.

This will allow the redirection of power demand from one cable to another during peak usage times, helping balance power usage by dynamically shifting power demand from one cable to another when needed. This dynamic load shifting prevents overloads and ensures improvement of the overall reliability and stability of power supply for consumers.

This means that network operators will be able to unlock parts of the network that have been previously underutilised in terms of capacity, and this release of capacity using existing assets will lead to a saving for consumers.

The evolving role of network operators

As the energy sector undergoes rapid transformation towards decarbonisation, and the proportion of new connections to the energy network for IDNOs rise, the role of IDNOs could evolve to play a more significant part in enabling the net zero transition.

As part of later phases of the GridLINK project, we will explore unlocking capacity through collaboration between IDNOs and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). Another element will be the exploration of how IDNOs may become Flexible Service Providers (FSPs), further enhancing network flexibility and resilience. By offering flexible services such as demand response, IDNOs can play a role in balancing supply and demand on the grid, ultimately benefiting consumers through improved reliability and efficiency.

Maurice Lynch, head of system flexibility at Northern Powergrid, the network operator for the Northeast, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, says: “This is an exciting project which looks to build on existing industry learnings and explore how flexibility can be unlocked within DNO and IDNO networks, something that has never been done before.

“The project aims to provide benefits in unlocking greater network flexibility to reduce costs to our customers and further optimise our network.” While also exploring to see if there is possibility for IDNOs to become providers and participate within DNO-developed flexibility services markets.

Northern Powergrid and IDNOs have a unique opportunity to mutually benefit through knowledge sharing. By exchanging insights and best practices, they can overcome regulatory obstacles and establish fair market practices. The project is expected to yield several tangible outcomes and benefits, ranging from deferment of network reinforcement to improvements in reliability and reduction of energy losses.

The learnings from the discovery phase of the project will include:

  • How the solution can increase network efficiency and capacity utilisation by implementing dynamic load shifting.
  • How this technology can deliver a decrease in operational costs.
  • How the solution impacts network resilience and adaptation to changing demand patterns.
  • How the solution can reduce the frequency and duration of power outages.
  • Other stacked benefits the solution could deliver in terms of voltage support and the ability to reduce losses.
  • What carbon savings can be made by implementing this solution.
  • What savings can be delivered for deferment of reinforcement.

To enable IDNOs to act as flexibility service providers, regulatory changes may be necessary to facilitate their participation in energy markets and incentivise their contribution to grid stability and flexibility. This may include revising existing regulations to accommodate the unique characteristics of IDNOs and creating mechanisms to ensure fair compensation for the services they provide.

If the SIF discovery phase is successful, the next phase will involve practical trials to demonstrate the value and viability of the concept. These trials allow for real-world testing and validation of new technologies, demonstrating their performance, reliability, and scalability in operational environments.


The Northern Powergrid team will be joined by Kelvatek at Utility Week Live on 21 and 22 May at NEC Birmingham. The team will be welcoming questions from attendees and providing updates about GridLINK.