Ricardo is supporting a trial run by UK Power Networks into using smart grid technology to unlock spare capacity for increased electric vehicle use—maximizing the power available from existing infrastructure while avoiding costly network reinforcement or substation replacement.
The project, called Active Response, will trial a responsive, automated electricity network that reconfigures itself, moving spare capacity to where the demand is. It will do this by using power electronics and automated switching to move electricity from heavily loaded substations to nearby substations with spare capacity.
By 2030 it is anticipated that there will be up to 1.9 million electric vehicles in use across London, the East and South East of England where UK Power Networks delivers electricity—including London’s buses and taxis. This could significantly increase peak demand for electricity.
Under the current regulatory system, the cost of building the additional capacity would have to be borne by customers, so UK Power Networks is using innovation to optimize its existing infrastructure to reduce this cost.
Active Response will be the first time that electricity networks can proactively move spare capacity around the system to support areas that are using more electricity. This means providing additional capacity in residential areas in evenings and at weekends when people are charging their cars, and then moving that spare capacity to where it is needed during the day—such as city centers, commercial hubs or electric fleet charging points.
Upgrading an electricity substation, or adding entirely new substations and cabling when customers need more power, takes time, costs money, and can cause disruption due to roadworks. Instead, Active Response could allow electricity companies across the UK to use these power sharing techniques to connect new customers, and those requesting more power, more quickly and at lower cost.
The project has the potential to save customers £271 million (US$364 million) and reduce carbon emissions by 448,000 tonnes by 2030. UK Power Networks delivers electricity to more than 8 million homes and businesses.
In November 2017, Ofgem approved the joint bid for the project submitted by UK Power Networks and SP Energy Networks as part of the annual Network Innovation Competition. Ricardo has supported the project from its initial concept and proposal development, and will continue to play a key role throughout its lifespan of four years.
Active Response will demonstrate two main methods:
Network optimization and automatic reconfiguration of high voltage and low voltage networks in combination, using remote control switches and Soft Open Points (SOPs).
Controlled transfers between primary substations using a Soft Power Bridge (SPB) to share loads and to optimize capacity.
Active Response will test three novel technologies:
Low-voltage SOPs developed from TRL 6 to 8, allowing fully controlled power sharing between LV feeders with no fault level transfer.
High-voltage SPBs that provide functionality similar to that of the LV SOP, but at high voltage using an innovative design to reduce cost and volume significantly.
Automation and optimization software providing coordinated switching on both LV and HV networks to balance load, avoid constraints or reduce costs.
Drawing on Ricardo’s extensive experience supporting the implementation of smart grid solutions, its energy specialists will develop the power electronic devices—Soft Open Points and Soft Power Bridges—and intelligent control systems that underpin the Active Response project.
The SOP and SPB power electronic devices are new designs using novel Silicon Carbide semiconductors, unproven on distribution networks. Further, the SPB is a new architecture that presents significant benefits over traditional inverter solutions.
The company will design the project use cases and field trials for the system, and support the manufacture, testing and installation of equipment to ensure robust implementation. Ricardo experts will also analyze solution performance and disseminate project findings.
Active Response builds on previous research projects such as Flexible Urban Networks – Low Voltage, which delivered pioneering results by proving that an entirely new use for power electronics could be deployed on the electricity network.