GE Digital Announces UK 'Smart Substation' Project

GE Digital has announced a partnership with UK Power Networks (UKPN) for the launch of a smart substation project designed to support renewable energy power generation across the United Kingdom.

The agreement announced Dec. 9 involves the installation of powerful computers in a series of substations. The project, known as Constellation, will leverage advances in software engineering, machine learning, and system optimization “to make substations interoperable and secure,” according to GE Digital.

The groups on Thursday said Constellation “aims to release 1.4 GW of capacity [enough to power more than 700,000 homes] and save consumers more than £750 million [about $990 million] by 2050,” while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power generation sector. GE Digital’s PhasorController, a flexible programmable controller platform, will be installed in substations to enable deployment of multiple “smart” applications. The company said that includes “functionality to optimize distribution network utilization and contribute to net-zero targets while reducing the need for investment in additional infrastructure.”

The project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2025, according to UKPN. The group said Constellation is being developed with a budget of £17,823,000 ($23.6 million).

Make ‘Complex Power Flows Smarter’

“UK Power Networks is adapting to increasingly complex power flows by becoming smarter so we can safely release more capacity and enable more renewable energy to connect at lower cost, saving customers money and helping the environment at the same time,” said Ian Cameron, head of customer service and innovation at UKPN. “We already have smart control rooms and grid edge devices like smart electric vehicle chargers. Having smart substations in the middle pulling it all together is a logical next step.”

The PhasorController platform distributes intelligence and control to the substation, along with distributed energy resources (DERs) connections, to complement the existing central control system. This helps provide resilience and continuity of DER operation when communications links are not available, according to GE Digital, which describes the platform as a “multi-purpose, flexible, phasor-based control solution for the Smart Grid.”

GE Digital in an email told POWER, “The PhasorController utilizes synchrophasor data which are high-precision, time-synchronized measurements of key power grid parameters such as voltage, currents, frequency and flows taken at the sub-second rate, necessary to observe the grid dynamics. This data is used to extract key metrics about power system stability which are then used to train the system.”

Machine Learning

GE Digital said that in the current grid system, when a utility loses communications, it falls back to a safe power level. That can create periods of time when the DERs cannot operate. The GE Digital solution uses data analytics and machine learning to incorporate data from periods when communication and the network is managed normally, which GE officials said “trains” machine learning models centrally. It then distributes the models to the local renewable generation controls, so they are ready to go live during periods when communications are lost.

“Constellation marks a transformation in the way electricity networks operate,” said Jim Walsh, general manager of GE Digital’s Grid Software business. “It will release reliable grid capacity in previously constrained situations. The combination of high-resolution data, advanced analytics, and flexible controls enable the network to operate reliably within its capability without over-conservative limits. It will also provide a foundation for additional smart solutions, further benefiting customers.”

GE Digital told POWER, “In partnership with utilities like UKPN, GE Digital is helping modernize the grid so utilities can provide sustainable, reliable, and affordable power to consumers. As the industry converts to cleaner energy and variable renewable sources like wind and solar become more available, utilities must balance the power mix to ensure electricity is available when and where it’s needed.

“We are proud of our partnership with UKPN on this innovative technology project, harnessing the power of forecasting tools, to predict loads and to model entire networks and facilitate the rise in renewable energy generation. Constellation will create revolutionary smart substations which free up capacity for renewable energy to facilitate their goal of net-zero emissions. UKPN is adapting to increasingly complex power flows by becoming smarter, so they can safely release more capacity and enable more renewable energy to connect at lower cost—saving customers money and helping the environment at the same time.”

UKPN told POWER that it estimates that by 2030, “the Constellation solutions, which include the GE Digital PhasorController, could save customers £132 million [$174.2 million] if rolled out across the UK.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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