Bright future for next-generation local electricity networks

Bright future for next-generation local electricity networks

Case study by University of Oxford

Mathematicians make the difference as the UK heads to a low carbon future

The challenge

University of Oxford.jpegBritain is heading to a low carbon future, thanks both to the decline in use of fossil fuels and government targets: by 2050, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced by at least 80% compared to 1990 levels.

“Data on domestic and small scale commercial properties’ electricity usage are recorded every half an hour. This data can be used to help categorise the customers’ behaviour and plan and forecast future energy demands across the short, medium and long term. Bracknell was chosen because it is so heterogeneous – it has a bit of everything.” University of Oxford Mathematical Institute’s Professor Peter Grindrod

There is a knock-on effect on electricity consumption. As consumers opt for low carbon alternatives to heating and transport, with heat pumps and electric vehicles becoming more common, the electricity usage in our homes – provided by low voltage (LV) grids at local substations – is expected to increase. To help understand less predictable supply and demand the government is installing smart meters in each of the UK’s 27 million homes by 2020.

Smart meters monitor a household’s electricity consumption, measuring it frequently and communicating information about it to a third party. Awareness of consumption patterns and changes in demand behaviour will have a tangible impact,extending the lifetime of electricity networks without causing massive investment and reducing both bills for customers and losses for suppliers.

Delivering results

The project, which began in 2012, utilises an area of mathematics known as unsupervised discrimination. Already it is delivering unprecedented insight into demands on LV substations and consumers’ behavioural patterns, enabling genuine number crunching rather than, as has been the norm for many years, the categorisation of usage based on socioeconomic profiling and postcodes. The team’s analysis is highlighting how traditional methods (often used at higher voltages) are not appropriate for properly working with energy demand at the level of the household or at the aggregation of small numbers of households. This has enabled the creation of new models and forecasting methodologies which are being trialled in the project. In particular, these forecasts are essential for the efficient control of storage devices which are soon to be implemented on several LV networks as part of the TVV. How did the University of Oxford help?

Mathematicians have the tools to form a deep understanding of consumption patterns. The University of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute, working with the University of Reading’s Centre for the Mathematics of Human Behaviour (CMoHB), is at the forefront of research to understand consumption patterns, thanks to a pioneering project in the Berkshire town of Bracknell in which they analyse the wealth of data available via smart meters. The £30m Bracknell project – known as Thames Valley Vision (TVV) – is funded by OFGEM and led by Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD).

What our client thinks

SSEPD have been working with the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford since 2013 on the Thames Valley Vision smart grid project. They bring a level of thinking that is unparalleled in the academic sector, with truly innovative thinking being utilised to solve engineering problems. The work on characterisation, forecasting and buddying could revolutionise the way that network operators manage and maintain the electricity networks of the future. It is anticipated that mathematics may play a role in devising efficient and effective methods and insights which could underpin the next generation smart LV grid technologies.

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