Project FALCON-First Year Trials Reveal Barriers to Demand Response in the UK

Project FALCON is helping Western Power Distribution to optimize its electricity network by using demand response.
Published: Thu 18 Sep 2014

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Western Power Distribution’s Project FALCON, a £16.2 million low carbon network funded project, has just completed its first set of winter trials.

The project, based in Milton Keynes about 70km northwest of London and focused on the 11kV network, has been using commercial techniques, in conjunction with customer participation, to test the many aspects of Demand Side Response so that the utility can optimize its network operations. The project started 1 December 2011 and the project completion date is 30 September 2015.

According to Sanna Atherton, FALCON Programme Manager, Western Power Distribution, the objective of the project is to firstly reduce the cost to customer, increase capacity, and ensure security of supply of the network of the future. She says, “We are essentially creating an energy model which looks at the potential future low carbon scenarios that could take place between now and 2050.”

“Low carbon technology has an impact and we are trialling six alternative ways to develop the network compared to conventional reinforcements. We are looking at ways of doing things a little differently.”

The techniques explained

Six techniques have been adopted:

1.Dynamic Asset Rating (DAR)

This technique aims to free up capacity where real conditions are more favourable than estimated conditions.

For instance, installing monitoring devices across overhead lines enables a better understanding of thermal dynamics during different weather conditions and guarantees a real value, as opposed to making estimates based on ambient conditions. This allows utilities to understand the dynamics of their assets more efficiently.

2.Automatic Load Transfer (ALT)

This helps to distribute energy more efficiently by making better use of capacity versus load on the feeders. Capacity can be shifted from one point to another to allow the network to intelligently follow demand patterns at specific points.

3.Meshed Networks

This enables interconnection of circuits to increase capacity by using spare capacity from one part of the network to the other. The most is made out of existing capacity.

4.Energy Storage

Storage is currently being trialled by installing 50kW batteries on the low voltage side of five transformers. They are being tested to see if they can help to manage short term ad hoc peaks.

5.Demand Response Through Distributed Generation (DG)

Through new commercial arrangements capacity has been identified which will be used to offset network peaks.

6.Demand Response

Customer demand alterations are being trialled to enable increased capacity. Directly contracted consumers as well as those provided via third party aggregators.

In the centre of the project is the scenario investment model (SIM)–a brand new piece of software that is being developed as part of the project. The SIM looks at what the potential future load scenarios could be on that part of the network and what potential constraints will come about. It then also looks at the six conventional techniques and picks the appropriate technique for a particular scenario.

“We work with a number of commercial and industrial customers in the area and we are incentivising them to take part in the trials. We are asking them to either utilise their generation to enable them to reduce demand or alternatively reduce their load at a particular time of day,” says Atherton.

Optimising the network

Western Power Distribution, with a network consisting of 221,000km of power lines, delivers electricity to 7.8 million customers. With the growth in clean energy such as wind and solar, and the introduction of new technologies such as electric vehicles and heat pumps to the grid, the electricity network is faced with unprecedented swings between peaks and dips in energy consumption.

The changing nature of customer demand and electricity generation is impacting upon the UK’s network and these will be managed effectively in order to avoid outages. A more flexible approach is needed to optimise the network and this is the reason for Project FALCON.

Project FALCON received its funding from Ofgem’s Low Carbon Network Fund, which was set up as part of the electricity distribution price control. The Fund supports Distribution Network Operators-sponsored research, trials, and the development of new technologies across the UK power distribution network. Many of these projects are labelled under the wider term of “Smart Grids” and are aimed at low carbon initiatives while still providing insights into the maintenance or development of security of supply. This has obviously become a pressing need as the UK moves towards a Low Carbon economy.

The trials have given Western Power Distribution the opportunity to look at the entire end to end process from direct participant recruitment, designing new commercial arrangements through to back office infrastructure which are required to support these arrangements.

Key Learnings

The main highlights of the first year’s results and consequential conclusions are:

  • Reliability is critical to Distribution Network Operator (DNO) deployment of commercial techniques. Under the conditions applied within the trial it is unlikely that a DNO could rely on such services as a viable alternative in order to substantially defer capital investment.

  • The level of funding that a DNO is likely to have to make as operational payments to participants is in conflict with the principal of commercial techniques being a lower cost alternative.

  • Existing DSR programmes and their associated contractual terms create restrictions that require to be addressed if participants are to benefit from multiple programmes. A cost sharing model will need to be developed to reduce cost of operation.

  • Identification of potential participant sites in the correct location and their engagement is a critical aspect of developing a DSR service that can affect specific constraint points. Initially, it is likely that there will only be very limited correlation between network issues and suitable customers to offer load reduction or generation.

  • DSR service participants are heavily biased towards providing service via Technique 6 ‘Distributed Generation’

  • A non-engineering approach to managing network issues and future design decisions is currently not well aligned with a DNO’s existing resources. Major investments in several areas including culture, skills development, recruitment and IT systems will be necessary in order to establish DSR services.


The development of Season 2 Commercial Trials has commenced.

Further reading

Western Power Distribution FALCON-Developing Future Power Networks-FALCON Commercial Trials Season 1-Winter 2013/14 [pdf]