Northern Powergrid, the company that distributes electricity to 3.9 million homes in North-East Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, is developing game-changing technology that will enable its engineers to pinpoint where faults on the low voltage (LV) network are likely and intervene before customers are affected.
The £4m Foresight fault detection project will reach its first-year milestone this Christmas and is progressing well, the company will announce at the industry's flagship Low Carbon Networks and Innovation (LCNI) Conference in Telford today.
Iain Miller, Head of Innovation at Northern Powergrid, says: “This three-year project will enable us to spot the tell-tale signals on the network before a fault happens – like the way an ECG can show an irregular heartbeat before cardiac arrest. The project is one of many key innovation schemes we are developing to drive network efficiencies and lower costs for our customers. As we close in on our first-year milestone we are nearing completion of the installation of the critical monitoring components in Teesside, with North Yorkshire installation starting soon.
“In our business plan, we promised to deliver more for less for our customers, including 20% shorter and 8% fewer power cuts by 2023. Identifying and stopping potential power cuts before they happen will help us deliver on this customer-focused ambition.”
Foresight will help engineers identify what different signals mean, and – crucially – how to pinpoint the source in order to effectively repair and replace faulty components before a customer’s power is disrupted.
The project also demonstrates Northern Powergrid’s commitment to talent development and investment in people. Foresight is led by Rebecca Kelly who began her career more than 15 years ago in Northern Powergrid’s contact centre. Eager for career progression, Rebecca was supported by the company to achieve her electrical engineering degree from Teesside University. She took the helm of the flagship innovation project in 2017.
Rebecca explains the significance of Foresight: “This project will bring about significant benefit for every customer in our region. A greater understanding of fault types will support a radical change in our approach to replacement works and will improve network reliability, efficiency and maintenance programmes, which will benefit our customers and result in less physical disruption on the network and roads. If we can fix faults in advance, we will keep the power flowing to all of our customers and not only play our part in resource conservation by saving materials, but minimise digging up roads and causing traffic disruption for local businesses and householders.”
Northern Powergrid currently has a policy that sees entire 250 metre sections replaced after four faults. With Foresight completed the company will be able to minimise the time taken on cable replacement programmes by only replacing short faulty sections.
The next project phase will see data interpretation work, identifying the fingerprint of a future fault, and Northern Powergrid expect to see completion by early 2020.
This announcement maintains momentum following Northern Powergrid’s recent announcement to put its eight million customers at the heart of the smart grid, creating a new energy market where they can make money from solar panels, electric vehicles and home batteries.
Last week the company also launched a consultation on plans to manage power losses, which currently cost its customers around £100 million a year. Much of these losses occur as electricity is converted to heat as it flows through the network, and the company is exploring technical solutions, such as increasing the size of cables and reducing voltages, and market-based approaches. Also, making sure that losses are seen as part of an optimised whole energy system.