Innovating to help us achieve our better future, quicker

Jim McOmish, Head of Distribution Networks and Open Networks Lead for SP Energy Networks

As Network Operators, we are passionate about supporting the move to a low carbon economy which represents value for money for GB electricity consumers. Our industry is transforming and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) are evolving to become Distribution Systems Operators (DSO) creating a smarter flexible network and new innovative customer relationships. This journey represents a significant shift in how electricity networks are going to be operated and importantly how network companies interact with their customers. We are proud to be working in collaboration with the wider industry and our regulator as part of the ENA Open Networks Project to ensure a fit-for-purpose DSO model is developed that is fair and truly representative. Innovation is required at a scale rarely seen within the industry to ensure a successful transition

At SP Energy Networks we have a series of innovation projects mapped against our DSO Vision and Distribution Innovation Strategy which are used to answer important questions and generate new learnings to help propel us forward on this journey. 

One such project, LV Engine, is a key enabler of a future DSO. Funded by Ofgem’s 2017 Network Innovation Competition (NIC), this award-winning 5 year flagship smart grid project will carry out a globally innovative network trial of Smart Transformers to facilitate the connection of low carbon technologies whilst delivering value for money for our customers. We lead the project in partnership with UK Power Networks and a number of other external partners. Together, we are developing a radical approach to 11kV and Low Voltage (LV) network design and operation through a number of Smart Transformers for deployment within secondary substations. If successful, LV Engine will demonstrate an alternative approach to conventional network design and operation providing the DSO with a number of tools necessary to operate more intelligently within the LV distribution network. If adopted, it could save electricity consumers up to £62m by 2030 by deferring costly network reinforcement.

Traditionally, the LV network has been passive with limited visibility or flexibility. This is no longer viable in a future which includes a high penetration of low carbon technologies such as electric vehicles and photovoltaics. The rise of the Prosumer also requires the active operation of the distribution network to facilitate the bi-directional flow of energy.

So, how does it work?
The Smart Transformers developed within LV Engine will sit within secondary substations and act as a central point of control actively configuring and regulating the distribution network by controlling key parameters such as voltage level, phasing, frequency, active and reactive power flows. The network diagram below illustrates how a Smart Transformer can be integrated into the existing LV and 11kV networks.

LV image 1

Simply put, a Smart Transformer is a digitally controlled power electronic converter otherwise known as a Solid State Transformer (SST). It is a collection of high-powered semiconductor components which can provide a high level of control to the distribution network.

Smart Transformer technology can step down voltage similar to a conventional transformer but can also offer significant advantages by providing additional valuable functionalities for better operation of the distribution network. The diagram below illustrates an example high level topology and the functionalities provided by a Smart Transformer.

HV Conversion image

What value does it bring?
The additional control and intelligence provided by LV Engine could be invaluable to the future DSO. It will provide the future DSO with tools and methodologies for real-time management of network constraints. The approaches proposed are highly innovative and are expected to generate significant learning to enable a more flexible and controllable distribution network. The future roll-out is expected to save electricity consumers up to £62m by 2030 and £528m by 2050 in avoided network reinforcement. The project could also generate environmental benefits on up to 1.3 million tonnes of CO2e by 2050. Recently LV Engine has won the annual WSP Project Award for Scotland and North England in the Sustainability Category.

LV Engine will enable the active operation of the distribution network by bringing a number of valuable functionalities to secondary substations that have previously been unavailable. These functionalities include:
• Intelligent LV phase voltage regulation using smart meter data
• Reactive power compensation at 11kV
• Power flow control for load sharing between multiple transformers
• Active filtering of network harmonics
• A low voltage DC supply for customers.
• Automation of low voltage network meshing

To enable the efficient use of these functionalities the project will take advantage of several streams of network data to determine the optimal configuration of the network. This includes monitored data from surrounding substations and Smart Meter data to build a real time view of the voltage profiles along the length and phase of each LV feeder. This data will be coordinated with the existing legacy IT systems and a new LV Engine Smart Controller designed to process the data using a number of intelligent algorithms and provide suitable set points for the Smart Transformers to regulate to.

What stage are we at now?
The project officially began in 2018 and has been developing both a technical and functional specification for the procurement of Smart Transformers which are fit-for-purpose within a distribution network. These documents are complemented by a number of studies leading to a competitive industry tendering to secure a number of external partners towards the end of 2018. The next 4 years of the project will focus on design and build of the Smart Transformers prior to live network testing at trial sites within both our SP Manweb and SP Distribution licenced areas.

During the project a number of design tools and policies will be created to ensure the methods developed by LV Engine can be successfully adopted by GB DNOs upon project completion. This includes Cost Benefit Analysis tools to determine the specific applications under which a Smart Transformer and the associated Smart Grid control represents best value investment in comparison with current conventional approaches to network design and operation.

LV Engine is one of many critical innovation projects which are required to enable us to achieve our DSO Vision. It will enable the active control and operation of the LV network to defer costly reinforcement and facilitate the adoption of a number of important Low Carbon Technologies helping us to create our better future quicker.

For further information on LV Engine please contact [email protected] or visit our website at


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