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UK deploys sensor ‘army’ aimed at building a better energy grid

GE and the UK-based electricity network distribution operator Western Power Distribution (WPD) plan to measure demand and voltage data across southwest England and south Wales to develop “templates” for utilities working to build modern, lower-carbon energy grids.

The research effort is among the projects being funded by a £500-million Low Carbon Network (LCN) fund being overseen by Ofgem, the UK’s energy market regulator.

One of the goals of the GE-WPD research effort is to better understand how carbon-reducing technologies like distributed solar panels can impact the electricity network.

“We’re making the real world our research lab and learning what really happens when we add new generation and consumption technologies to our power grid,” said Peter Aston, innovation and low carbon networks manager at WPD. “We’ll know the true effects of system changes because we will be able to collect and analyae the low voltage network data in a way we haven’t been able to do before.”

As part of the research project, sensors to record demand and voltage data will be distributed at 1,000 substations across the study area. An additional 8,000 sensors will be deployed at homes to measure voltage profile data.

Researchers at the University of Bath will then compile and analyze that data to create “network templates” that can be used to optimize power grid design and upgrades across the UK.

“Today we’re using the power grid in ways that were not even conceivable when the system was originally designed,” said Keith Redfearn, general manager of digital energy in Western Europe for GE Energy. “With GE sensors transmitting network data, we can help create the roadmap to lower energy’s carbon footprint and incorporate innovation more effectively and efficiently.”

Low-carbon, distributed technologies like rooftop solar panels create challenges for an energy system originally designed to handle electricity from large, centrally located power plants. Using data gathered by the sensors, researchers will look for the best ways to smooth loads, lower stress, optimize performance and maximize the energy-delivery capacity of the entire network.

Installation of the sensors is set to take place sometime this year.

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