OpenLV was a ground breaking, £6m project to make local electricity data openly available to the energy industry, community groups and app developers.
The purpose was to explore the capacity of the local low voltage (LV) electricity network to cope with the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy and the increase in electricity demand that this implies, for example by replacing heating and transport fuels with electricity.
Open LV tested an open-source software platform in 80 Low Voltage (LV) electricity distribution substations located in Western Power Distribution’s (WPD’s) licence areas across the Midlands, the South West and South Wales.
This platform made it possible to monitor the performance of the substations and measure aggregated electricity demand from local homes and businesses. In a similar way to a mobile phone, each platform can host multiple applications to provide a variety of services to network operators, communities and the wider industry, appropriate to the substation characteristics, local community, and distribution network needs.
After consulting with community organisations taking part in the project, CSE’s Andrew Gonnet developed an app for the platform to collate half hourly data from the substation. Data is communicated to a web app which in turn allows people to view data online and making it possible for community members to log in and configure various settings, including:
- Generating real time graphs (and embedding them in local websites)
- Viewing the ‘raw’ data
- Combining multiple data points
- Setting up alerts
- Modelling electricity tariffs
- Showing data from local wind and solar arrays
- Estimating domestic PV generation in a given community
- Displaying national, regional and local carbon intensity data
The project set out to demonstrate the platform’s ability to provide benefits in three respects:
1: By improving the capacity of the local electricity network for distribution network operators (DNOs)
This is critical, as the additional demand on the network from car-charging and electric heating is growing all the time.
Network reinforcement (e.g. adding capacity to the substations) is extremely costly and will take many years. It makes far more sense to make existing substations more responsive. The OpenLV software platform assessed demand on the substation and demonstrated that there is potential to connect pairs of substations to increase capacity based on demand.
2: By providing community benefit
The software platform can be used to provide data about the local electricity network to customers or groups of customers. CSE worked with seven community organisations (details below) to use the web app and look at how access to LV substation data can help to bring about local benefits.
These benefits were linked to:
- Information and awareness raising to better engage people.
- Improving effectiveness of projects for energy use and behaviour change.
- Exploring potential for community energy business models (e.g. aggregated flexibility services) as and when the infrastructure develops for more distributed energy systems.
3: Through the development of apps
Third party companies were able to develop their own apps which could be put on the platform to provide benefit to the operator and customers. The expectation behind OpenLV is that availability of data from substations – along with the open software platform – will create new economic opportunities and enable the transition to more actively managed local electricity networks. Examples of apps are shown on the OpenLV.net web page.
Funding for the project came from Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition and the main partners are Western Power Distribution and EA Technology. CSE’s role in the programme was as community engagement specialist to support the delivery of community engagement activities.
Learning from the project will be used to progress local energy projects in future as well as to help to make a case for improved access to energy data to help facilitate transition to more low carbon communities.
What is a substation?
Substations stand between the high voltage electricity network (‘the motorway’) which is fed directly from power stations, and the lower voltage network (‘the A & B roads’). The substations are where high voltage is transformed to low voltage.
They are typically rather unremarkable buildings, like in the photo. But there are a lot of them: in Great Britain there are approximately 230,000 ‘ground mounted’ substations plus some 350,000 pole-mounted transformers which are effectively mini-substations.
These are linked together by 800,000 km of overhead and underground power lines – enough to stretch to the moon and back.
Before being delivered to homes and other buildings, the current is transformed again by around 1m low voltage ‘feeders’.
The organisations listed below worked with CSE throughout 2019 to trial access to open data on local electricity networks. These innovations could have a real impact on the future of local networks while providing benefits to a wide range of users.
Marshfield Energy Group
In this project, an app using OpenLV data allowed local people to see real-time energy demand in the village, alongside data about grid carbon intensity. Data was also used to provide an evidence base for a village-wide energy strategy, for business planning around time-of-use tariffs, for the expected increase in electric vehicle use and potential energy storage solutions associated with it, and to assess potential for additional renewable energy installation.
BWCE used OpenLV data to develop an app for demand management, which will enable homeowners to adapt their energy use and encourage the take up of battery storage and solar PV. They also tested models for the role of community enterprise within local electricity markets.
This OpenLV trial took place on a housing development in the Bishop’s Cleeve area of Cheltenham and test out an app to give residents in the trial area access to their community’s real-time electricity demand, with the intention of raising awareness and changing behaviour around energy use. Findings from this trial will form the foundations of a larger extrapolated approach to tackle fuel poverty across all Rooftop communities.
Used OpenLV data to engage local people in local energy issues through messaging on substation behaviour, local energy consumption, local generation and carbon intensity. By putting energy data loggers into homes of residents who volunteer they planned to help people understand the link between domestic electricity use, substation activity and local renewable generation.
They planned to integrate solar generation data from the Newton Downs Solar Farm onto the community web app, alongside information from individual household data loggers (although there have been delays in accessing this data and integrating it with the web app). Generally, YCE have used the data to give general talks about electricity systems to their community and to highlight the impacts changes to the system (from low carbon technologies) may have on DNOs.
The OpenLV app developed in this project showed community users energy use at substation level, data on local generation from assets owned by the group, and information about national grid carbon intensity and modelled local tariffs. Monitoring equipment will be installed in a substation where ECOE already has active members.
OpenLV substation data was used to raise awareness of energy use in the community, to promote take up of low carbon technologies by local households, and to help optimise the match between the PV and heat pump installations, so that local households will flex their demand in such a way that losses in the low voltage network are minimised.
The TEC OpenLV project centred around awareness raising, changing behaviour around energy use, and the development of local tariff models. The app gave a visual representation of demand at the substation, combined with data on local generation from assets owned by the group, as well as national grid carbon intensity.
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