Electricity distributor SP Energy Networks has unveiled groundbreaking new technology that can give an accurate real-time reading of the short circuit capacity, or fault level, on networks.
It is using prototype "Real Time Fault Level Monitors", developed jointly with measurement device specialist Outram Research, to help actively manage its network by measuring the fault level of electric power supply in real time.
Fault level is the highest amount of current that might flow in an electrical system under short circuit conditions; the actual amount is determined by the voltage and impedance to the fault at the time.
If there is little headroom between the fault level and the design limits of the local plant, cabling and equipment, then reinforcement works are normally needed before additional distributed generation or battery storage could be connected to the network.
Fault level isn't just a problem in Great Britain but on electricity grids throughout the world, which highlights the potential for this technology to be rolled out into other markets
Alan Gooding, executive director, Smarter Grid Solutions
A 20 second reading from the Real Time Fault Level Monitor could provide confidence that the existing substation configuration had enough spare headroom to connect more generation or battery storage, removing the need to install expensive and time-consuming switchgear.
As a result, the technology will enable new connections to be added to the network at a much lower cost. Across the network, insights from accurate monitoring could save millions of pounds on repairs, engineering works and substations closures.
The trials are currently taking place in substations across Chester, Warrington and Liverpool.
SP Energy Networks is combining this technology with active network management (ANM) software that will automatically manage networks to avoid the risk of additional power flowing into any short circuit.
The Distribution Network Operator has invested £140,000 to partner with Outram Research on a 12 month trial of the technology.
Scott Mathieson, network planning and regulation director at SP Energy Networks, said: "This technology is a gamechanger. In 20 seconds we can see the exact, real-time short circuit capacity of our electricity network and work out how to fix any problems.
"I'm proud that SP Energy Networks is leading the industry by supporting the development of this technology and running the first ever trial. The potential benefits for our customers are massive - improved resilience of the network, faster renewables connections, reduced costs and a more efficient network."
We're looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the trial and the benefits this will release not only for the electricity network, but for customers too
John Outram, director, Outram Research
Outram has been working for the last decade on fault level monitoring technology following an approach form SP Energy Networks approaching in 2010.
The project to develop the Real Time Fault Level Monitor prototypes began in 2016.
John Outram, director at Outram Research, said: "We were delighted to accept SP Energy Networks' original Fault Level Measurement challenge. Since then, their enthusiasm and support, both theoretical and practical, has nurtured our work, leading now to this major capability.
"We're looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the trial and the benefits this will release not only for the electricity network, but for customers too."
SP Energy Networks has also enlisted the help of global energy software specialist Smarter Grid Solutions (SGS) to work on the new fault level solution.
SGS is using its ANM Strata and ANM Element software to manage the risk of additional power flowing into any short circuit from the connection of additional generation and energy storage in parts of distribution networks that already have high fault level.
ANM Strata and ANM Element are used for active network management (ANM) and to facilitate flexible energy asset connections, including storage batteries and distributed generation.
The ANM products are used to manage the additional generation and energy storage devices, enabling access only when the network fault level is within safe limits.
Alan Gooding, executive director and co-founder of SGS, said: "This is a really important project because fault level is one of the factors that's holding back the roll-out of more renewable energy generation and battery storage.
"Fault level isn't just a problem in Great Britain but on electricity grids throughout the world, which highlights the potential for this technology to be rolled out into other markets.
"Generating more power from renewables and storing that energy until it's needed are both essential elements of the UK hitting its legally-binding 2050 net-zero commitment.
"This is also an important new use for our ANM Strata and ANM Element software, adding to their existing uses for ANM across thermal and voltage constraint management, energy and flexibility market interaction, scheduling and optimisation."
SP Energy Networks owns and manages overhead and underground powerlines in Merseyside, Cheshire, North Wales, North Shropshire and Central and Southern Scotland.
To find out more about this technology, click here.