A distribution network operator (DNO) in the UK has opened up data from its substations so local communities, businesses and other stakeholders will be able to see if local networks can cope with rising electric car numbers.

 

Substations are key components in the modern grid. Most of the million or so in the UK sit between the transmission and distribution networks, changing down voltage levels suitable for local distribution.

But what if they could do more, such as provide important information about the amount of available capacity on the local network, or communicate with other substations to increase or release capacity through real-time management of the network via software.

This ability could become more important as electric vehicle (EV) adoption grows.

DNOs managing the low and medium voltage network lack knowledge of how much spare capacity there is on local electricity networks. Having this information will become more important in the coming years as too many EVs on a particular feeder – a cluster – all charging at peak times will potentially push demand over the limit.

The DNO Western Power Distribution (WPD) is trialling an open software platform that opens up data from its local substations, so that local communities, businesses, academia, renewable energy developers and other stakeholders will have more information about whether networks can cope with rising EV numbers.

In the OpenLV project, launched in early October, as many as 10 of WPD’s substations will deploy the technology, consisting of the LV-Cap software platform developed by EA Technology.

 

Identifying clusters

In the pilot the software has many potential applications that will support the transition to smarter grids, enabling local networks to integrate more intermittent renewable energy, like rooftop solar PV, as well as energy storage and EV chargers.

DNOs lack data on numbers of low carbon technologies being installed, but they do know that these installations will not happen evenly across the network, leading to clustering.

OpenLV is opening up substation data to identify where clusters of EV charging will create demand spikes, to inform alternative solutions to ensure enough capacity rather than expensive network upgrades

The technology can be potentially used to autonomously connect neighbouring low voltage networks to reduce load on transformers and move capacity to where it is needed. This is called ‘network meshing’.

When the data highlights a potential capacity issue, it can inform decisions about the most suitable technology innovation. These could include smart charging, or other emerging EV charging infrastructure, such as vehicle-to-grid (V2) technology.

Alternatively, energy storage could be added, or the network meshing approach could be taken, rather than expensive and disruptive infrastructure reinforcement works, requiring digging up roads and installing more cables.

The OpenLV project is making electricity network data ‘open access’ for the first time, so a key part of the project is to invite ideas from community groups, industry stakeholders and others, to come up with ideas for apps that can make use of the data.