Northern Powergrid – from DNO to DSO with smart grid upgrade

UK DNO Northern Powergrid takes the smart grid from pilot to full scale rollout.
Published: Fri 02 Feb 2018

Northern England distribution network operator (DNO) Northern Powergrid has launched an £83m smart grid upgrade that should provide the platform for its future activities. As such also it should underpin its transition to a distribution system operator (DSO).

The Smart Grid Enablers project, billed as the UK’s most comprehensive network upgrade programme, is also notable in being a full scale smart grid deployment moving up from the earlier pilots.

The most important of these was the ’Customer-Led Network Revolution’ demonstration, at the time the largest in the UK with trials involving 13,000 customers. Northern Powergrid also have been involved in various energy storage trials and is collaborating with Nissan on electric vehicle innovations.

“Our Smart Grid Enablers programme is putting our region at the forefront of the low-carbon revolution,” says Patrick Erwin, Policy and Markets Director at Northern Powergrid.

“It will make us ready to support rapid growth of electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar power in the next decade, while maintaining a reliable system and keeping costs as low as possible for all our customers. [It] will give us a state of the art command and control capability, enabling us to respond to real-time information about power flow on our network.”

Smart grid programme

Broadly the project, which will run over the next five years to 2023, is aimed to ensure that the systems in place are able to provide detailed visibility on the grid at a local level and real time monitoring and control of equipment.

Specifics include:

• Installing high-bandwidth digital communications links to over 860 major substations and 7,200 secondary substations replacing old analogue links.

• Replacing transformer monitoring control units in 750 major substations and the equipment that allows them to control voltage.

• Replacing or upgrading substation controllers in over 860 major substations.

• Installing monitoring equipment for the first time in 1,300 secondary substations and obtaining data from 2,000 existing sites.

• Creating new data warehouses to process data from substations and from domestic smart meters.

Delivery will be by a dedicated team of nearly 100 specialist engineers, and recruitment of other skills and staff training is under way.

According to a statement the programme should give Northern Powergrid the capability to develop new ways of managing the network. For example, with dynamic control of network voltages, headroom could be provided for more generation or demand reduced to help balance the overall system.

With understanding of actual loads on the system, upgrade requirements can be more precisely identified.

Northern Powergrid estimates that the programme will achieve savings of £400-500m compared to conventional solutions in the period 2023 to 2031.

The programme also is key to the Northern Energy Strategy, which envisions that by 2050 the north of England will be the leading low-carbon energy region in the UK, with an energy economy worth £15bn per annum and 100,000 green jobs providing affordable, clean energy across the region.


In the UK the imperative is for the DNOs to switch to DSOs and become more active in managing the networks with the more dynamic and two way power flows of a decentralised paradigm.

With open service platforms connecting the growing array of devices at the grid edge, DSOs are uniquely placed to play a key role in the new energy economy.

While several UK DNOs have published DSO transition strategies, including Western Power Distribution and UK Power Networks, Northern Powergrid appears to be the first to put the delivery into action. In addition, it is among the first in Europe to start building out a full service platform.

As such its progress will be of great interest and should provide important findings for future distribution network management.

Related Webinar