Northern Powergrid has begun the next phase of its £83 million Smart Grid Enablers programme to modernise and future-proof more than 860 of its substation controllers.

An investment of £15 million will fund the next generation of substation controllers to make smart substations more of a reality.

As part of the project the distribution network operator (DNO), which operates 8,000 substations, will work with ZIV Automation UK to replace the substation remote terminal unit (RTU) equipment and establish a modern platform for the implementation of next generation smart grid solutions and applications.

The RTU acts as an interface to the electrical plant within a substation, marshalling alarms, plant status and analogue data (such as voltage, current and power information) and communicating with control engineers via the network management system.

It directs the digital control commands from the control engineer to operate equipment such as circuit breakers and tap changers within the substation, while also providing the platform for more advanced control schemes within the substation.

Mark Nicholson, head of smart grid implementation at Northern Powergrid, said: “This is a significant and technically challenging operation drawing on many of our highly specialist technical functions across the business – it has been an impressive team effort between Northern Powergrid and ZIV Automation UK Ltd to get us to this stage.

“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.”

As part of the programme, Northern Powergrid will also:

  • Install high-bandwidth digital communications links to over 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.

Northern Powergrid describes the project as the “the UK’s most comprehensive network upgrade programme”, which will create the “backbone of a smart grid”. It will support the North’s ambitions to put low-carbon technology at the centre of its economy and enable solutions that could save up to £500 million by 2031, the company said.

The latest element of the Smart Grid Enablers programme will begin this month and is scheduled to be completed in 2023.

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