A UK-based project is set to trial new technology that could facilitate integration of decentralized energy sources in urban areas.

UK Power Networks’ Power Electronic Fault Limiting Circuit Breaker (PowerFul-CB) project, which will get underway this month, features ABB’s fault current limiting solution based on microelectronics, which the company says is a world first. The solution is designed to ease the connection of distributed generation resources, especially combined heat and power (CHP) systems, to London’s distribution networks.

In a 2014 report, UKPN said that with increasing amounts of decentralized energy coming online in urban areas, especially CHP and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, the main constraint for new connections is often fault level, rather than thermal or voltage constraints as in more rural areas where the main distributed resources tend to be wind and larger-scale PV.

The report found that fault level constraints had led to 58 of 114 primary substations in the London Power Networks area having no spare capacity, while the rest only had room for up to 6.6 MW of new distributed generation.

‘This review confirms the experience of network planners at UK Power Networks, which is that fault level constraints in urban networks are the primary barrier to the connection of distributed generation, and therefore a barrier to the achievement of goals in renewables and decentralized energy,’ the report said.

The PowerFul-CB project aims to first test the new technology on 11 kV distribution networks. In the project’s first two years, ABB plans to use its existing 2000 A power electronic fault current limiter technology to build a full prototype for a trial installation at a primary substation. The company said its device will respond to a fault current within 0.35 milliseconds and can be reset as soon as the fault current is cleared.

If the trial is successful, UKPN said further implementation could save power customers ‘millions’ by 2050 in avoided network construction costs. In addition, according to ABB, the new technology means that, by 2031, London could see a greater than six-fold increase in connecting CHP systems.

Peter Jones, Technology Strategy Manager at ABB, said: ‘Fault currents can be a major barrier to the connection of distributed generation. But while a number of smart solutions are already available they do not meet London’s unique physical and operational constraints in terms of lack of space for new substation equipment and the need to ensure security of supply.

‘The PowerFul-CB project will enable us to demonstrate an innovative approach that offers a compact option to achieve a quicker and more cost-effective connection to fault-level-constrained networks.’