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Smart capacity management can cut need for new power cables to meet green demand

Image credit: UK Power Networks

An innovation trial by an electricity business has indicated that more than 500 electric vehicle chargers could be connected around a single substation, using state-of-the-art control technology instead of installing new cables and substations.

The trial by distribution network operator UK Power Networks used an AI computer simulation to test Active Response software on a London substation. This is designed to automatically move electrical capacity around the network in order to safely accommodate growing demand from low-carbon technologies like electric vehicles (EVs) and heat pumps.

The trial is a key part of UK Power Networks’ ongoing work on ‘smart grid’ development, and helping to enable net zero. The company forecasts up to 4.5 million EVs by 2030 in its areas of operation in London, the South East and East of England.

Just one rapid EV charger can use as much electricity capacity as a block of flats, so proactively ‘creating space’ for new chargers is a key step in enabling the UK’s move to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

The simulation was based on a substation in Tooting in south London. Active Response processed vast amounts of data and used switches to automatically reconfigure power flows around the network, and efficiently distributed electrical load across the available infrastructure. One of the simulations tested a ‘peak demand’ scenario in the evening when people are at home cooking, using electric heating and charging electric cars. The system identified a way to unlock 1,000kW of capacity – equivalent to 142 fast chargers – and there was scope for more from other cables.

Experts at UK Power Networks believe the software solution could release capacity for 568 additional EV chargers in Tooting alone. There are 195 primary substations like this across London and 1,313 across the South East and East of England that share similarities – so the software has potential to enable thousands more fast chargers to be connected in other areas. The project team is now preparing to trial the system on the live electricity network. 

Project partners include IT business CGI and Ricardo Energy & Environment. Symon Brown, account director at CGI, said: “We are proud to be a partner on Active Response. As a team, we have come a long way in informing how a rapidly changing energy network will operate in the future. We have had some impressive results, and as the transition to net zero will be enabled through projects like this, it is evident that Active Response is an important step along the way.”

Sarah Carter, UK business area manager at Ricardo Energy & Environment, said: “We are very pleased to continue to support the UK electricity supply industry in delivering projects such as Active Response. They are learning from commissioning state-of-the-art software that processes network data to determine optimal running arrangements and gives distribution network operators and other stakeholders valuable insights into the offline trials before the project moves into the online trial stage as new controllable power electronic devices and switches are installed on the live network.”

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