UK distribution network operator Northern Powergrid has started a £15m ($19m) project to ‘future-proof’ more than 860 of its substations for the implementation of smart grid solutions.

The Smart Substations work is part of a wider £83m programme called Smart Grid Enablers which is intended to modernize the company’s assets by 2023.

Northern Powergrid operates 8000 substations across northern England, delivering power to 3.9 million homes. The smart grid programme is designed to prepare this region for an anticipated rapid growth of electric vehicles, domestic heat pumps and renewables and is the UK’s most comprehensive network upgrade programme.

Mark Nicholson, head of smart grid implementation, said: “This is a significant and technically challenging operation drawing on many of our highly specialist technical functions across the business. The advantage at the end of this work will be infrastructure that will enable us to operate our network in a more flexible way to deliver more value for our customers through smarter, more efficient and cost-effective services.”

The Smart Substations project will see Northern Powergrid work with ZIV Automation UK to replace the substation Remote Terminal Unit (RTU) equipment and establish a modern platform for the implementation of next generation smart grid solutions and applications.

The RTU acts as an interface to the electrical plant within a substation, marshalling alarms, plant status and analogue data (such as voltage, current and power information) and communicating with control engineers via the Network Management System.

The RTU directs the digital control commands from the control engineer to operate equipment such as circuit breakers and tap changers within the substation, while also providing the platform for more advanced control schemes within the substation.