Northern Powergrid has started the next phase to modernise and future-proof more than 860 of its substation controllers for smart grid solutions and applications.

This next work will see investment of GBP5m (US$6.4m) in the next generation of substation controllers to make Smart Substations more of a reality. This element of the Smart Grid Enablers is scheduled to complete in 2023.

Northern Powergrid's GBP83m Smart Grid Enablers programme is preparing for rapid growth of electric vehicles, domestic heat pumps and renewable power. It is the UK's most comprehensive network upgrade programme, creating the backbone of a smart grid, supporting the North's ambitions to put low-carbon technology at the centre of its economy, and enabling solutions which could save up to GBP500m by 2031.

"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 to get us to this stage," said Northern Powergrid head of Smart Grid Implementation, Mark Nicholson.

The Smart Substations project will see Northern Powergrid work with ZIV Automation to replace the substation Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) equipment and establish a 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.

The RTU 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. 

Northern Powergrid recently completed the project's proof of concept phase, in partnership with ZIV. This initial phase drew on specialist expertise from across the DNO's business. Key activities carried out during this period included developing software and integrating communications programmes, acceptance testing of the RTU at Northern Powergrid's Control Centres in the North East and Yorkshire, as well as the installation, testing and commissioning of RTUs to the live network at Beeston Royds, Dunkeswick, Chirton Grange and Wansbeck substations.

The next phase of the GBP15m project will build on experience developed in this initial phase and provide a platform for developing further substation functionality.

Northern Powergrid operates 8,000 substations across North East UK, Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, delivering power to 3.9m homes and businesses in the region.

It is currently laying the foundations of its customer-led transition to become a distributed system operator (DSO) and the work will form a key part of that change.