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Active Response software allows 500 EV chargers to be connected to one substation

Jordan O'Brien

Jordan O'Brien

Contributing Editor
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UK Power Networks has trialled new software that will allow a larger number of electric vehicle chargers to be connected to one substation. 

The Active Response software is designed to automatically move electrical capacity around the network to safely accommodate more EV chargers, but could also help with the installation of other low carbon technologies, such as heat pumps. 

During the trial, UK Power Networks utilised an AI computer simulation rather than letting the software loose on its network. This simulation looked at how the network would respond if more EV chargers were connected to a single substation in London, and how the Active Response software would react. 

It’s safe to say the trial has thus far been a success, with UK Power Networks showing for the first time that more than 500 EV chargers can be connected around a single electricity substation. That’s a significant achievement as the software is much cheaper and easier than having to build new cables and substations. 

The trial is a key part of UK Power Networks’ ongoing work at the forefront of ‘smart grid’ development, and helping to enable net zero. The company, which is ranked number 1 in the global Smart Grid Index, forecasts up to 4.5 million electric vehicles in London, the South East and East of England by 2030. Just one rapid EV charger can use as much electricity capacity as a block of flats, so proactively ‘creating space’ for new chargers is a key step in enabling the UK’s move to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The simulation was based on a substation in Tooting in south London. Active Response processed vast amounts of data and used switches to automatically reconfigure power flows around the network, and efficiently distributed electrical load across the available infrastructure. One of the simulations tested a ‘peak demand’ scenario in the evening when people are at home cooking, using electric heating and charging electric cars. The system identified a way to unlock 1000kW of capacity -– equivalent to 142 fast chargers – and there was scope for more from other cables.

Experts at UK Power Networks believe the software solution could release capacity for 568 additional EV chargers in Tooting alone. There are 195 primary substations like this across London and 1,313 across the South East and East of England that share similarities – so the software has potential to enable thousands more fast chargers to be connected in other areas. The project team is now preparing to trial the system on the live electricity network.

How UK Power Networks is supercharging the smart grid

The Active Response project isn’t the first time UK Power Networks has leveraged smart grid technology to unlock capacity. Last week it was announced that the firm had spent nearly £1 million to roll out new load blinding relays, which should unlock grid capacity for new renewable generation.

This latest trial focuses on demand rather than supply, with many estimating that the roll-out of new electric vehicles onto the market causing an increase in demand. Couple that with the ditching of gas boilers and move over to electric solutions, such as heat pumps, and you can see why the future grid may need to be smarter to reach net zero. 

Ian Cameron, head of customer service and innovation at UK Power Networks, said: “To reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we need to facilitate millions of electric vehicles and heat pumps and work even faster to connect more renewables. These results are exciting because they show that intelligent innovation can have a multiplier effect and make this future a reality.

Project partners include CGI and Ricardo Energy & Environment. Symon Brown, account director at CGI, commented, “CGI are proud to be a partner on Active Response. As a team, we have come a long way in informing how a rapidly changing energy network will operate in the future.  We have had some impressive results, and as the transition to net zero will be enabled through projects like this, it is evident that Active Response is an important step along the way.”

Sarah Carter, UK business area manager at Ricardo Energy & Environment, added, “We are very pleased to continue to support the UK electricity supply industry in delivering cutting edge innovation projects such as the Active Response project. They are learning from commissioning state-of-the-art software that processes network data to determine optimal running arrangements and gives distribution network operators and other stakeholders valuable insights into the offline trials before the project moves into the online trial stage as new controllable power electronic devices and switches are installed on the live network.”

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