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Team to investigate energy network complexity

12 July 2012

Funding to assess the feasibility of constructing a system to respond to the increasing complexity of the UK’s energy network has been secured by a team comprising researchers from the University of Bath’s Department of Computer Science, in collaboration with Low Carbon South West and Grid Scientific. The team will investigate how a ‘coherence engine’ could enable operators to achieve significant business and operational benefits and how to respond to failures in the network more efficiently.

The introduction of Smart Power Distribution to energy networks, as part of the evolving Smart Grid initiative, will see a sharp increase in the number of systems that rely on sensors and other intelligent devices. A coherence engine may support Distribution Network Operators in extracting the maximum value from data provided by these devices.

The role of the coherence engine could be of importance as software enabled devices become more prevalent, data proliferates, fault symptoms become less obvious and network and operations complexity increases.

By developing an understanding of the anticipated operational and technical impacts of the introduction of these technologies, the researchers would be able to support Grid Scientific with its development of a coherence engine that could improve operations processes in distribution networks.

Low Carbon South West, a membership organisation which creates sector partnerships between businesses, academia, investors and local authorities to promote the growth of environmental technologies and services in the South West region, is leading the partnership and will also disseminate the partnership’s findings across it membership.

Board member Simon Bond said: “Current systems for monitoring faults in the energy network rely on their independent view of activity. As the network becomes more complex and new technologies are introduced, this lack of communication between monitoring systems could become problematic.

“Through this project the partners are aiming to determine the feasibility of a centralised view of the network which will address these complications and deal with a proliferation of network data.”

Grid Scientific, a company which designs software to support the evolution of today’s energy networks, has been investigating the potential of data coherence for energy networks over the last year. The company also draws on over 20 years of experience in telecoms networks where similar changes can be viewed as an analogue for the changes now expected in energy networks. If the feasibility study is encouraging, Grid Scientific plans to develop new data coherence products for the energy network market.

Eric Brown, Managing Director of Grid Scientific, said: “The challenges and opportunities  we are now seeing in energy networks are similar to those seen in telecoms when major changes took place in that sector in the 1990s.

“However, substantial differences between the electricity and telecoms environments mean that a level of technical and operational innovation will be required.”

“We’ll be working with the research group to determine where the latest thinking in computer science can be applied to deliver solutions for energy networks.”

Dr Rachid Hourizi, researcher in human and system interaction from the University of Bath’s Department of Computer Science, said: “Understanding the feasibility of coherence to successfully meet the smart power distribution data challenges will depend on collaborative and cross discipline innovation from the electricity, IT and communications sectors. Through the University working with industry partners it is possible to achieve this.

“If feasibility can be shown, this project could lead to the construction of a prototype coherence engine for fault management and the extension of the approach to address improvement in other processes in the electricity network.”

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