UKPN pilots Vodafone’s 5G network in Constellation smart grid pilot

UK telco Vodafone has joined a smart grid pilot being deployed by UK Power Networks to explore how real-time data can be used to accelerate digital transformation and grid decarbonisation.

Vodafone will provide the utility with a 5G network to connect various distributed and intelligent grid devices and for secure, resilient, and fast data telemetry as part of the Constellation smart grid pilot.

The 5G network will be used by UK Power Networks (UKPN) and project partners (General Electric, the University of Strathclyde, ABB and Siemens) to provide high-speed connectivity for ‘powerful computers’ set to be installed in electricity substations.

A resilient network will enable the computers to communicate and exchange data with each other in real-time, a development that will enable UKPN to enhance the efficiency of its grid network.

Using 5G, grid devices are expected to exchange data 100 times faster than they would using 3G and ten times faster than 4G. In addition, 5G is claimed to be cost-effective compared to other communication technologies.

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By accessing data regarding the operations of various distributed grid devices, UKPN will leverage analytics to optimise the operation, management, and maintenance of its distributed energy resources including solar and wind energy generation assets, energy storage systems, and electric vehicles.

In addition, the utility will be able to use the data to match its changing energy demands with generation, and in turn, be able to expand its portfolio of renewable energy resources and energy flexibility capacity for grid reliability and improved customer services.

The smart grid pilot is funded by Ofgem through the Network Innovation Competition and is claimed to be the world’s first trial to connect parts of the electricity network with high-speed 5G connectivity.

If rolled out across the UK, the solution being trialed in Constellation could save 63,702 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – equivalent to the carbon emissions from 38,607 return flights from London to New York.

The aim of the pilot is to develop a model that can be used to help UKPN and the UK grid networks for an anticipated increase in distributed energy resources and to move the UK closer to its 2050 net-zero goal. UKPN has seen a huge rise in the volume of clean energy like wind and solar connecting to the grid over the past ten years, going from just a handful of large, centralised generators in 1990 to more than 170,000 today. 

The Constellation project team will select multiple testing locations across UK Power Networks areas in the southeast of England and at the University of Strathclyde’s Power Networks Demonstration Centre, a test facility near Glasgow.

Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, said: “5G is not only replacing older and more expensive technologies, it is bringing about new capabilities that benefit everyone – consumers, businesses and our environment.”

In the case of UKPN, the network is expected to result in a wide range of grid automation services.

Ian Cameron, head of customer services and innovation at UK Power Networks, said: “We already have smart control rooms and smart electric vehicle chargers – developing smart substations in the middle will help us facilitate net-zero and deliver real cost and carbon savings for our customers.