Making local electricity data openly available
OpenLV is a groundbreaking, £6m project that’s making local electricity data openly available – to the energy industry, community groups and app developers.
The purpose is to improve the capacity of the local low voltage (LV) electricity network so that it can cope with the decarbonisation of the UK's energy use and the increase in electricity use that this implies (e.g. by replacing heating and transport fuels with electricity).
Open LV will do this by testing an open-source software platform in 80 Low Voltage (LV) electricity distribution substations located in Western Power Distribution’s (WPD’s) licence areas – the Midlands, the South West and South Wales. This platform will monitor the performance of the substation and measure electricity demand from local homes and businesses, and will host applications created by a diverse set of developers, such as community groups, businesses and universities, providing a variety of services to network operators, communities and the wider industry.
Funding for the project comes from Ofgem's Network Innovation Competition and the main partners are Western Power Distribution and EA Technology. CSE's role is as a community engagement specialist to support the delivery of community engagement activities.
The project will 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 will assess demand on the substation and will allow it to mesh (electrical engineering term for 'join up') with other substations to increase capacity as required and instantly.
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. The project will work with community groups to understand whether apps can be developed and installed that they can benefit from, for example financial rewards for charging their vehicles in off-peak periods.
3: Through the development of apps
Third party companies will be able to develop and release their own apps for the platform to provide benefit to the operator and customers. EA Technology will provide the base API (Application Programming Interface) to work from.
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.
Here are three examples of what the apps could do:
- Provide information to communities about how much energy is being used by all properties fed by a substation, allowing communities to join together and obtain cheaper energy rates.
- Provide electricity networks with more information about areas where low carbon technologies (eg. electric vehicles) are clustered on networks, and help with future predictions about that network, so smart solutions could be deployed rather than infrastructure upgrades, so saving money.
- Provide electricity networks with more information about what’s going on in substations in real-time, allowing existing assets to potentially be run harder for short periods without the need to replace/upgrade, so saving money and avoiding bill increases.
More information on the project website at www.openLV.net.
So, what is a substation exactly?
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 below. 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'.
Photo: Paul McIlroy, reproduced under creative commons