Strategic Innovation Fund


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Distribution networks are becoming increasingly complex during the Net Zero transition as new systems and equipment are rolled-out. Trinity aims to reduce the strain this causes by deploying an advanced network simulator to improve training in control rooms, optimise operations and provide a ‘sandbox’ environment to test changes before deployment. 

What is the project about?

Distribution networks are becoming increasingly complex because of the addition of new technologies, the addition of flexibility and the digitalisation of systems. These changes are aiding the transition to Net Zero, but are also making distribution networks harder to manage due to new control points, failure modes and system interactions being introduced. In addition, the network is experiencing increasing uncertainty in levels of demand and generation which adds further operational challenges. 

Control rooms are not set-up to evolve at the pace required to account for these changes. Testing new equipment and systems is often a manual and time-consuming process and adds to the strain on teams whilst they maintain current performance, safety and reliability. 

Trinity aims to address these challenges by developing and deploying a control room simulator which will improve network control, provide improved training programmes and a safe ‘sandbox’ environment to test changes before they are applied to the live network. Currently, making network changes is a drawn-out process due to stringent controls that are in place to avoid issues with the live power management systems, but a simulator would enable changes to have improved testing before they are rolled out, increasing efficiency and reducing risks. 

How we’re doing it

In the project so far, we have engaged potential users from control room, control system and automation teams to gain insights into the challenges faced across the network and better understand how a control simulator could help address these challenges. These conversations highlighted reliance on key personnel, manual processes, the lack of simulator solutions at present and increased network complexity due to the transition to Net Zero. 

These discussions subsequently helped shape the creation of simulator use-cases which explain key scenarios in which a simulator would benefit related users. A total of 29 use cases were defined, including providing a realistic training experience of the live network and simulating specific equipment faults to assess if automatic resolutions are suitable. 

The simulator was rolled out on a virtual environment of the South Eastern Power Networks license area and demonstrated to key UK Power Networks users to test the simulator on a real Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS). Crucially, this allowed us to deploy each use case and assess if they perform as expected, or if further simulator adjustments are required before it is fit for purpose for that use case.  

What makes it innovative

At present, distribution networks do not have a comprehensive and integrated network simulator, meaning that there is no safe environment to test network changes prior to applying them to the live network. The simulator being developed and enhanced in Trinity is a first of a kind for GB distribution networks and has potential to be of huge benefit for control rooms across the country. 

To help make sure that the simulator is accurate and realistically models the live network, the Power Networks Demonstration Centre (PNDC) developed an innovative validation technique to validate the simulator’s outputs against a generic UK distribution network model in industry best practice power systems analysis software. The results of this confirmed the accuracy of the simulator for certain use cases, and led to further developments being made for others where discrepancies were found. This validation technique will be taken forwards for use in future innovation projects where innovative simulation environments need to be validated. The validation model was designed to be representative of other networks across the UK to ensure that the work completed in Trinity can benefit other distribution networks in other regions. 

What we’re learning

In the work completed so far in Trinity, we have learned lots about the development process of complex digital tools, such as an ADMS simulator, and the considerations which should be made to ensure that it can be successfully rolled out. So far, we have learned that: 

  • The prototype simulator is able to optimise control procedures and de-risk deployment of network changes. 
  • Change management will be a key part of future innovation to help the simulator’s adoption and make it ready to be used as a comprehensive training package. 
  • Providing the simulator the right data to accurately model the network can have its own challenges for both technical and regulatory reasons – data sources should be linked where possible, with considerations made for privacy regulations to make sure that the simulator can take advantage of increasing volumes of data across the network. 

As Trinity progresses, we are excit ed to investigate additional advanced use cases to add to the simulator, roll-out the simulator across UKPN’s other license areas and explore how Trinity can be offered to other Distribution Network Operators.  

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