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Responding to change: how harnessing data will dominate the DNO future

Kelvatek, 13th August 2021
Data and DNOs


Distribution Network Operators across GB have published their draft business plans that have been submitted to Ofgem, outlining their plans for RIIO ED2 in the drive towards a netzero future. Kelvatek argues that readiness for the required data collection, analysis, and distribution will emerge as the key success factor for DNOs driving the decisions that will optimise capital investment, minimise operational costs and create the opportunity for added shareholder value through performance incentives.

Underlying all of the plans for RIIO-ED2 is the commitment to support net-zero carbon emissions before 2050, backed up by UK Government general sustainability legislation. Ofgem acknowledges that “decarbonisation at lowest cost is one of our three core priorities,” and “In light of decarbonisation goals... there may be reasons to more directly link DNOs’ revenues to the achievement of outcomes that go beyond the delivery of traditional network services.”

Amid this political landscape, society’s appetite for sustainability and the demand that this places on the network, how can DNOs allocate capital effectively, optimise existing resources, cut operational costs, improve quality of supply, and ensure that environmental targets are achieved?

Notably, in the previous regulatory cycle, the RIIO-ED1 Open Letter in 2013 used the word ‘data’ just three times. In the intervening decade, the technology landscape has changed dramatically. The RIIO-ED2 position is very different. Ofgem notes that: “DNOs must act on the principle that data is presumed open, and they must readily collect, manage and share data on the networks that they own.”

For the new regulatory regime, the data and environmental factors are therefore critical. Looking at the DNO business plan responses, there are many shared themes. For example, increasing LV visibility via new and existing monitoring devices is clearly a major priority for all DNOs. Many DNOs have indicated their plan to increase utilisation of smart metering data to give greater visibility of load and consumption patterns. Smart metering also opens the door to the ability to manage network constraints through new tariffs.

In related areas, data will be essential to make reductions to the number and duration of interruptions to supply and for improving delivery to customers considered ‘worst-served.’

Sustainability and data management are inevitably interconnected. Collecting, analysing, and acting on real-time data can transform efficiency and reduce environmental impact. Data provides the information and insight that enables improved capital allocation, enhanced operational performance, the achievement of performance incentives and increased return on investment. Every step towards operational excellence and efficiency is therefore also a step towards greater sustainability. With significant growth forecast in electrification of heat and the use of Electric Vehicles (EVs) the DNOs are being challenged to accommodate the additional load that this will require while minimising the impact on the end customer’s bills.

To build these capabilities means introducing data from every level of the grid, and the ability to capture, store and analyse that data to maximum effect. For distribution networks, the opportunity to improve data collection and analysis is vast. Increasing numbers of intelligent devices are being installed on the network, and these devices have the potential to provide the data foundation that will enable better ways to build, operate, and manage existing infrastructure.

Comprehensive data collection combined with the necessary controls and security management standards will make it possible to adopt Open Data principles, which could have the same far-reaching consequences for DNOs that we have already seen in industries such as banking. In the banking sector, the net beneficiaries are those banks that have acknowledged and understood that the landscape has changed and have created new revenue streams based on data availability. For example, these banks now offer sophisticated new cashflow and currency services, using Open Data to integrate and analyse client and industry data.

Internally, the effective analysis and use of this data offers tremendous opportunities for DNOs. The wealth of data collected from existing and new equipment, combined with other internal and external data sources will enable greater efficiency, reduced operating costs, and faster progress towards net-zero for those DNOs who are able to develop the necessary data science, data engineering and Artificial Intelligence skills, whether through partnerships or directly themselves. Data gathered by network sensor technology will enable better detection of events, predictive capabilities and support the optimisation of interventions where these are required.

The ability to combine present-day data with historic data will provide the ability to analyse trends, forecast investment, and predict equipment lifecycles based on actual usage. Many devices such as automatic reclosers have been acting as network monitors for many years, enabling DNOs to build a detailed picture of performance and reliability over time. By combining network histories with current data, the data analytics landscape can become a foundation stone for progress towards net-zero, as well as helping to meet other key objectives.

Ultimately, because the changes affecting DNOs’ business plans are mandated, the industry is facing enforced revolution. Other sectors affected by similar regulatory conditions – banking, for example – show that success depends to a high degree on the ability to adapt quickly to the new environment. On that basis, it is critical for DNOs to work with partners that can deliver on data and net-zero demands, and that are able to support the new ways of working that RIIO-ED2 requires.

The challenges set for DNOs by the new regulatory cycle are also faced by their suppliers. These vendors can bring their unique, specialist knowledge to the table, as partners in the data-driven journey to sustainability. In particular, vendors that have been collecting fine-grained network data for many years will be able to offer analysis and insight that will be essential for optimising existing network performance, which in turn will enable the move to net-zero while mitigating investment and operational costs.

How can Kelvatek help?

Kelvatek recognises the steep challenges ahead. Based on industry experience and collaboration developed over more than two decades, we are committed to helping each DNO achieve its ambitions through tailored plans, supported by our extensive range of software, services and products.

To meet the desire for data derived from comprehensive network monitoring, our AI-enabled LV monitor, PRESense can provide full visibility of load and also predict where, when, and what type of faults will occur, enabling proactive network management for optimal efficiency. Similarly, to support continuity and minimise customer interruption and time off supply, Kelvatek offers Bidoyng and Weezap as intelligent sensors and automated reclosing devices.

We are also investing significantly in our Sapient software and service offering. Going beyond fault location and management support, Sapient will be the most advanced predictive and analytical solution for the LV market, covering prediction and classification of developing faults, monitoring of load and assessment of cable health.

Additionally, Kelvatek offers essential performance analysis services, based on power quality data from tens of thousands of devices, with histories reaching back decades. Kelvatek retains a huge volume of historical fault data and makes full use of this unique resource. Based on this archive and the addition of 3rd party data sources such as smart metering data, Kelvatek will deliver critical insights to DNOs to help target interventions, manage and enhance operational procedures, develop improved connection strategies for LCT, mitigate network phase balance issues, and reduce power losses to help minimise carbon footprint.

As highlighted across many of the DNOs business plans, safety issues related to Rising and Lateral Mains will continue to be a growing concern. Our Wattsguard monitoring solution offers increased protection, helping to reduce the risk of electrical failures.

Supporting beyond the LV network, our 11kV overhead line fault management solution, LineSIGHT can provide the predication and location of faults and downed lines.

Armed with the right insights, DNOs can step confidently into the net-zero future and achieve the ambitious targets set by the UK Government and Ofgem and as outlined in their own plans for the future.

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