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UK Power Networks Transforms the Power Grid with VMware Software-Defined Systems

UK Power Networks is taking on a truly monumental innovation project in the United Kingdom. VMware solutions for virtualization and connectivity, including VMware vSphere, VMware vSAN, VMware Tanzu, and the edge-optimized VMware Edge Compute Stack, will transform their grid into an intelligent, environmentally clean power system. Software-defined systems will offer their participants and customers real savings while facilitating massive amounts of data. The plan is projected to offset 1.9 million tons of CO2 and save UK Power Networks customers well over £100 million by 2030.

Across the globe, power service providers are looking for ways to realize their sustainability goals without reducing the resiliency of the grid. However, many of the renewable energy solutions that are actively being commissioned to add capacity and displace existing fossil fuel generation are changing the operating characteristics within their service territories. This is especially true for traditional, low-voltage areas of delivery where distributed energy renewables (DERs) are being interconnected and represent an increasing percentage of the necessary supply for local loads.

Components of a virtualized power system

Centralized management systems such as Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS), shown in Figure 1, have begun to deliver significantly advanced capabilities in orchestrating sources and demands. ADMS also improves outage response times, business continuity, and overall power quality.  However, data quantity and quality is the key factor in their performance, with a heavy reliance on high-speed, high-bandwidth connectivity and growing requirements for compute, as use cases are added.

Figure 1: Advanced Distribution Management System I/O

Active Network Management (ANM) can be used to augment ADMS.  ANM ensures that the real time electricity being produced by DERs is prioritized and balanced, while remaining within the physical limitations of the existing grid infrastructure. Through state estimation, forecasting of power flow, and contingency analysis, it can maximize allowable throughput. In a centralized form, this system has weaknesses in its communications links. However, if the system is disaggregated, then the most can still be made of inadvertent islands, with local ANM intelligence taking over to continue maximum feasible DER production in the event of a communication outage. And, by leveraging synchronized phasor measurements to digitally represent the local power system, many additional use cases and applications will benefit from the same data in the future.

The importance of Adaptive Protection becomes more significant as DER usage rises. As another extension of up-to-date network data produced by an ADMS, adaptive protection can dynamically assess and adapt the system protection settings and schemes for a wide area. Service providers can input local regulatory and business rules and validate those rules against device capabilities before applying them, resulting in better optimization. An adaptive protection system can also present assessments of past response performance, existing operating conditions, and future settings forecasting.

Figure 2: vPAC architecture

Virtualized Protection, Automation, and Control (vPAC) is needed at each power system station, which may be a primary grid substation or a smaller, secondary or DER station. vPAC delivers protection algorithms, custom logical controls, and automation of high voltage apparatus, which was previously performed by a large grouping of traditional microprocessor devices (Figure 2). High speed (real-time) and deterministic performance is still available, even after a drastic consolidation onto the same small set of rugged, certified (IEC 61850-3, IEEE 1613) computing hardware that is already hosting the other, less sensitive site workloads. The portability and scalability of the software-defined system offers significant advantages in terms of standardization of deployment and flexibility in operation. Local site PAC is performed, including DER-specific frequency- and voltage-based functions. Additionally, the site-to-site interconnections offer an exchange of lightweight communications (routable IEC 61850) between vPAC instances to improve the identification of disturbance locations near DERs and isolating only the affected portions of the network. This will increase the overall availability of carbon-neutral electricity.

Local Asset Management tools implemented as a virtual appliance perform management and administrative functions. Storage of critical, vendor-specific information for all hardware and software assets for the entire station exists here. This virtual gateway will facilitate multiple communications protocols allowing for automatic collection of configurations, device versions, events and commissioning reports, etc.

Figure 3: Specific grid-wide utility use case based on VMware solutions

UK Power Networks is actively implementing this innovation project. The core functionality can be visualized as shown in Fig. 3. Each of the applications described above are being virtualized and employed, from their grid center to the edge stations. UKPN expects not just to enable and increase the available capacity of renewables (thereby offsetting a projected 1.9 million tons of CO2 ), but also to save their customers well over £100 million by 2030. As they install and commission these systems, they have also issued an open call for additional innovation through competition. With the available flexibility they now have with software-defined systems hosted on VMware, and by opening the floodgates for available data to be consumed, UKPN has only scratched the surface of what is possible!


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