Reducing network uncertainty and increasing safety by monitoring fault levels in real time

Reducing network uncertainty and increasing safety by monitoring fault levels in real time

Find out how SP Energy Networks and Outram Research, with the support from the EIC, are working to create a revolutionary Real Time Fault Level Monitor


Industry Lead Network: SP Energy Networks

Innovator: Outram Research

What was the challenge?

Managing fault levels – the highest amount of current that could flow in an electrical system under short circuit conditions – is one of the major challenges faced by Distribution Network Operators (DNOs).

The ability to monitor and manage these levels is crucial. Where a current is too small, it can be challenging to detect a fault, making it impossible to isolate. Where a current is too large, there’s significant risk of power interruptions, damaging equipment, or impacting safety. In densely populated areas, such as cities and towns, fault levels are typically higher due to increased demand and proximity to generation sources.

Where there is only a small amount of headroom between the fault level and the design limits of the local plant and equipment, reinforcements are required before additional generation or battery storage can be connected to the network.

SP Energy Networks identified fault level monitoring as a crucial way of operating the network more efficiently and worked with the EIC to explore the innovation that could help them achieve this.  

What was the role of the EIC? 

The EIC worked to support all parties to move quickly through project scoping and contract agreement (Direct Investment Agreement), in accordance with NIA (Network Innovation Allowance) framework. The EIC has also remained involved in supporting the project team to ensure that the project is delivered to time, cost and quality.

What was the result?

SP Energy Networks led a project working closely with Outram Research to jointly develop the prototype “Real Time Fault Level Monitors (RTFLMs)”. 

The revolutionary technology collates prospective fault level results by measuring very small artificial disturbances over a short period of time. Results from these measurements are continuously available but are typically averaged over 10 seconds. 

The results can then be transmitted in real time, making it the first compact instrument capable of generating real time measurements for managing networks.

These readings give networks the confidence in whether there is sufficient headroom to connect more generation or battery storage without reinforcements. This means that networks can save money on repairs and closures, and new connections can be added at a lower cost.

It will also increase network safety and operability, reducing the risk of operating above design limits.

The technology is proving advantageous with trials currently taking place in substations across Chester, Warrington, and Liverpool.

Rounding off successful trials which verified the great potential of the solution in revolutionising network management, Outram, with the support of SP Energy Networks, won the Best Electricity Network Improvement award at the UK Energy Innovation Awards 2019.

What were the key benefits?

  • The innovation gives greater visibility and understanding of the network fault level
  • Allows networks to validate models to release additional firm capacity
  • Enables faster and cheaper connections for customers, increasing the uptake of low carbon technology
  • Increases network operability and security, allowing for greater interconnection
  • Introduces Active Network Management based on fault level
  • Allows for ‘Flexible Connection’, including agreeing to disconnection when fault level reaches a pre-determined limit

Looking forward

Following the success of the initial project, a second phase of trials will now be carried out. This will see another DNO join SP Energy Networks to work in collaboration with Outram, with the support of the EIC, to trial the technology prototype in live network conditions. The end goal of this will be to implement the technology into business as usual (BAU).  

Scott Mathieson, Network Planning and Regulation Director at SP Energy Networks, said:

"Enabling us to see real-time short circuit capacity of our electricity network and work out how to fix any problems in seconds really is a game changer. We are proud to be supporting the development of this innovative technology and running the first ever trial. The potential benefits for our customers are massive – from improved resilience of the network, to faster renewables connections, reduced costs and a more efficient network.”

John Outram, director at Outram Research, said:

"The challenge of creating a technology that could provide real time fault level measurement is something that we were keen to take on. The collaborative nature of the project has been great – SP Energy Networks have been highly supportive which has helped significantly in the development of the technology’s capability. We’re very excited to see the outcomes of the trial and what benefits it will bring to both networks and customers”

About the innovator

Established in 1985, Outram Research Ltd is an electronic design house and manufacturer of state-of-the-art Power Quality Analysers and Fault Level Monitors.

Find out more about the project here.

To find out more about Outram and their experience of innovating in the energy sector, listen to the latest episode of The EIC Listening Project, featuring Global Head of Marketing at Outram research Ltd, Kate Edwards, here.  

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