SP Energy Networks and Digital Catapult partner to develop a digital twin of the electricity network to help achieve net zero

Posted on 3 May 2022 by The Manufacturer

SP Energy Networks and Digital Catapult, in a consortium with University of Strathclyde and National Grid ESO, have received funding from Ofgem’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) to explore how an innovative, open and interoperable digital twin of the UK’s electricity transmission and distribution networks can aid decision making when managing and balancing energy resources and assets. The project will also help to improve understanding of the potential role of advanced digital technologies in achieving the UK’s net zero targets. 

The discovery project will determine the “art of the possible” based on currently available technologies, as well as outlining the use case and minimum viable product for a digital twin of the electricity transmission and distribution networks. 

Digital twins are systems that gather or present data from the physical, ‘real’ world which is then used to build a model in the digital world (‘the twin’) that carries out analyses and enables smarter decision making in the physical world. For complex systems – like the electricity network – digital twins offer the potential for dynamic and automatic decision making in operation, planning and forecasting, helping to cut costs, waste and improve assets’ lifecycles. 

As part of this project, development of a digital twin of the electricity transmission and distribution network will allow the partners to understand the complete system in real time, providing the ability to visualise – and simulate – how and when the electricity transmission and distribution network is being used, in order balance the system in the most optimal, safe, and cost-effective way. 

Niko Louvranos, Senior Energy & Utilities Practice Lead at Digital Catapult said: 

“With the anticipated electrification of heat and transport, and the proliferation of distributed energy resources connected at distribution level – such as electric vehicles, solar, and standalone battery storage – we will see an increase in demand-side flexibility as we aim to achieve the UK’s net zero targets. 

“We therefore need to have better visibility of the potential impact and efficacy these assets might have when balancing the National Transmission System (NTS), and develop systems and processes to manage this more intertwined and complex system in its future state. This project is all about understanding how digital twins can support visualising, understanding, and evolving a system as complex as the UK’s electricity networks to respond and adapt in real time. 

“At Digital Catapult, we are really excited to continue supporting the energy and utilities sector and accelerate innovation working alongside innovative energy networks, such SP Energy Networks, and partners who are looking to maximise the potential of advanced digital technologies to transform and future-proof the energy sector and achieve the UK’s net zero ambitions.” 

Graham Campbell, SP Energy Networks’ Director of Processes and Technology, said: 

“The significant investment from the Strategic Innovation Fund shows the critical role innovation plays in us achieving net zero. 

“The nine projects SP Energy Networks are leading on are a culmination of several months of collaboration across the industry to drive change. In 2021 we engaged with over 100 stakeholders, which has led to us now working with 27 partners including academics, industry experts, solutions providers and advanced digital technology innovation specialists, like Digital Catapult. These projects are being delivered by our industry, and we’re committed to working with parties of all sizes in the wider SIF portfolio, continuing to give opportunities to SMEs.”

Neil Kenward, Director of Strategy and Decarbonisation at Ofgem said: 

“The only way we can reduce our vulnerability to volatile and high gas prices is to focus on generating cheaper, cleaner power here at home.  

“Ofgem is committed to achieving Net Zero rapidly and at lowest cost, to deliver real net benefits to network companies, energy users and consumers. That is why we are delighted to support innovative projects like this one through our Strategic Innovation Fund.”

The initial phase of the project (Discovery) is the first of three in the SIF process, identifying relevant use cases, functional requirements as well as current and future sources of asset data at different voltage levels to assess the feasibility of developing a simulated digital twin that can run ‘what-if’ scenarios and support national transmission system (NTS) balancing decisions by National Grid. Subsequent phases will build on these learnings to develop a proof-of-concept (Alpha phase) to further understand and de-risk a larger scale trial that we will aim to develop in the final SIF (Beta) phase.