WPD: Getting Charged Up for a Smart Future

By Jenny Woodruff, Western Power Distribution, Innovation and Low Carbon Engineer

The Government’s Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan, published recently, highlights the potential for Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to transform their operations. This transformation to Distribution System Operators (DSOs) is being supported by the ENA’s Open Networks project, which is considering the how DNOs will need to develop new skills to perform new functions to make use of flexibility in the networks.

We have already introduced a range of new connection options where generators that can allow for flexibility in their output, can benefit from faster and cheaper network connections. We are now looking to extend the benefits of flexible operations, not just to accommodate customers looking to connect new load onto the network, but also to reduce or defer traditional reinforcement in general. It may even influence the way we plan our networks to operate when sections are out of service, potentially reducing reserve capacity and providing the same level of service with fewer assets.

New and emerging technologies are necessary to support the various elements required for wholly flexible networks. These elements include:

  • enabling customers to provide demand side response in their homes and businesses;
  • smart metering to allow customer flexibility to be measured and rewarded;
  • generation control systems;
  • storage systems that can smooth generation output and provide a range of other services as required; 
  • communications systems to allow for flexibility at multiple sites to be co-ordinated together;
  • trading systems to link buyers and sellers together;
  • new systems to forecast flexibility requirements and execute them in a co-ordinated way with other flexibility service users.

We particularly welcome the Government’s support for storage by removing regulatory inconsistencies, simplifying planning arrangements and investing in the Faraday Challenge, a competition to establish a battery research institute. 

Given the increase in storage connected to the network and recent fall in battery prices, it’s easy to be misled into thinking that battery technology is now mature. While it’s certainly a very exciting time for batteries, we haven’t yet had the degree of practical experience necessary to iron out all the teething troubles that come with new technology – nor are storage requirements met with a “one-size fits all” approach with National Grid typically requiring services that respond faster but persist for a shorter period than DNOs. 

This is one reason why batteries are not the only form of storage technology that requires further development. While their fast response rate may be ideal for some purposes, other technologies may be able to store and release larger volumes of energy more cost effectively. WPD is looking at how storage at different scales can be used through its innovation projects: Solar Storage, LV Connect and Manage, and Industrial and Commercial Storage.

In terms of the other building blocks for a flexible network, WPD is involved in helping customers provide flexibility services through its involvement with a number of innovation projects. These have involved helping customers provide services to both National Grid and the DNO, and we are investigating the options for flexibility markets by working with Centrica on their Cornwall Local Energy Market project.

We are also bidding for Network Innovation Competition funding for our Electricity Flexibility and Forecasting project which will improve forecasting and create the technology systems to support flexible networks.

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