System operation has always been a key pillar of a stable energy system; balancing load with supply, maintaining a stable frequency and managing congestion at critical chokepoints, all in the name of keeping the lights on. Traditionally, the TSO has borne the brunt of this responsibility, however, as the pace of DER uptake accelerates, things are changing.

Consumers are becoming prosumers, electricity is increasingly being used for transport and heating and the stabilizing effects of large-scale, conventional generation are being lost in favour of cleaner, but more volatile renewable resources. All of this adds up to significantly change the operational conditions seen on distribution grids, rendering the principles upon which they were designed obsolete and their fitness-for-purpose seriously in doubt.

It is for this reason that distribution operators across Europe are seeking a system operation role of their own, ensuring the stability of their grids by actively managing them in real-time. This is commonly known as Active Network Management or Active System Management, and DSOs across Europe are in the process of developing this capability. Transforming from a company that provides connections to end-users, to a company which also manages a complex energy system is no easy task, and DSOs have a great deal of work to do to prepare themselves for taking a more active role.

The first step is to improve the visibility of their low voltage networks. Building the business case for this is challenging, as low voltage networks feature higher volumes of lower value assets. However, DERs are increasingly being connected to the low-voltage network, and having an accurate understanding of the conditions is essential for properly managing the resulting power flows. Utilities must therefore maximize utilization of existing and incoming infrastructure, including smart meters and AMI, and use intelligent methods such as state estimation to minimize the number of extra devices they must install.

Once the DSO has access to the necessary range of data, they must develop an accurate model of their network, taking into account the capacity of each circuit and the optimum values for voltage, reactive power and other key performance characteristics in order to maintain an adequate quality of supply. When this is combined with analytical models based on operational data and forecasts around DER production and end-user consumption, optimization algorithms can be run to determine where production must be increased or decreased and where flexibility is required.

This leads to the final challenge – establishing secure and reliable communications with DERs and flexible assets in order to manage their output in real-time. There are several ways to achieve this, ranging from integration with SCADA systems, to the use of bi-directional smart meters, and DSOs must make sensible choices which align with their overall strategies and take into account the wider implications of the technology to their business.

So where is Active Network Management being trialled? There are several examples of successful and ongoing pilot projects in Europe:

·         Iberdrola – STAR Project

·         UK Power Networks – Kent Active System Management

·         Enel – Puglia Active Network

·         SP Energy Networks – Dumfries & Galloway Integrated Network Management

·         Enedis – Nice Grid & others

·         Vattenfall – Askersund Microgrid

·         SSE – Orkney Island Active Network Management

These are just some examples – every DSO in Europe is highly focussed on achieving this capability, and all companies will have ongoing projects investigating active network management. At Smart Grid Flexibility 2019, taking place in London 1-3rd October, two of Europe’s leading DSOs, Enel and Alliander, will be presenting about their active network management projects, the choices they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learnt. For those focussed on developing these capabilities within their own organizations, this is an unmissable opportunity to hear from the pioneers and feedback crucial information to projects.

Active Network Management