Delivering smarter networks for sustainable homes

Delivering smarter networks for sustainable homes

By Jayson Whitaker, Managing Director, Energy Assets Networks, Pipelines and Fibre

Successfully implementing the UK Government’s recently unveiled residential heat strategy is fundamental to the country’s net zero ambitions.

The question is, how do we effect such a fundamental transition, while also meeting growing demand for power in areas such as electric vehicle charging?

What it’ll take to decarbonise heat in homes

A recent evaluation of Britain’s housing stock, on behalf of the Energy & Utilities Alliance, suggests decarbonising heat in homes requires a mosaic of technologies. Including heat pumps, hydrogen, solar power and battery storage – along with other interventions.

There’s no clearly defined strategy for hydrogen in heat at present. We do know, though, that greater electrification will be driven by:

  • phasing out gas boilers
  • the financial incentives for heat pumps
  • the legal mandate for EV charge points in new builds from 2022.

This power focus brings its own challenges for those of us responsible for final mile energy network ownership and management. The pipe infrastructure we adopt is already hydrogen-ready, the question is, how do we balance local network electricity loads, making sure demand doesn’t exceed capacity?

Well, as you might expect from an innovation-focused organisation like ours, we’re on it.

Creating the resilient local energy networks we’ll all need

We’re actively engaged in partnerships with housebuilders, energy suppliers, technology providers and government agencies. And we’re already seeing the results.

For example, near Glasgow, we’re partnering with CALA Homes and E.ON on 77 new low carbon homes capable of generating and sharing green energy. We’re energising heat pumps, EV charge points and other domestic devices. Then providing the granular load data that enables E.ON to export excess home-generated PV power for community consumption or transfer to the grid. It’s a forward-looking example of how renewables integration can work at a local network level.

In another UK-first project, we’re applying artificial intelligence (AI) to safeguard network integrity. In a partnership with Evergreen Smart Power and Myenergi, we’re demonstrating how AI can help manage loads in a constrained environment, without the need for costly grid reinforcement.

Here, we’ve shown that by employing a network-to-device AI interface, we can manage loads dynamically by automatically dialling down consumption at peak times to relieve network stress and safeguard power to homes.

A fresh perspective on After Diversity Maximum Demand (ADMD)

We’re also investing heavily in technology that monitors the performance of low voltage networks.

This is critical, because research by the Independent Networks Association (INA) has  transformed our understanding of what’s known as After Diversity Maximum Demand (ADMD).

ADMD’s used in the design of electricity distribution networks to aggregate demand over any given number of customers. Historically, the average peak load for a 3-bed semi, for network design purposes, was estimated at about 2kVA. However, thanks to the INA’s analysis, we now know that as end users increase, the maximum time-coincident demand per dwelling actually falls. This is because people heat their homes, run appliances and charge EVs at different times of day, to suit their lifestyles, particularly now home working is prevalent.

The upshot is that through data available via the smart cabinet monitoring systems we now routinely install in our network substations, we’re better able to influence the design of smarter, more efficient networks.

Of course, the energy industry has levers to pull beyond technology. With half hourly settlement data mandated from 2025, suppliers will be able to create flexible time-of-use tariffs to influence customer behaviour. Demand Side Response initiatives will help with load management by incentivising homeowners to use domestic appliances, charge EVs or even top-up residential battery storage during off-peak periods.  

There’s no doubt greater electrification will create some challenges for network owners – but, there’s never been a more exciting time to be part of an industry that’s central to the success of Britain’s net zero ambitions.


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