NIE Networks: Data and digitization help shape the future of energy - Belfast Telegraph

NIE Networks: Data and digitization help shape the future of energy – Belfast Telegraph

Andrew Cupples and the rest of the network development team focus on what they want to achieve to ensure that Northern Ireland’s power grid is on the cutting edge of technology and ready for the increased demands of the future as we move to net zero.

Or NIE networks, they focus on moving toward low-carbon technology, dealing with increasing network demands as we move away from fossil fuels and toward electrification of our homes, cars, and public transportation.

Andrew Cupples now works as a Network Development Manager and has been a champion with NIE Networks for just over 12 years, working across a range of roles – starting as an electrical engineering graduate and moving into his current position.

His role includes grid planning with a focus on the integration of low-carbon technologies and renewable energy generation across the grid.

“The primary focus is on targeting network investment in a timely and efficient manner,” Andrew told Ulster Business.

“It is able to handle the increasing demands on the grid. In particular, the motor for that at the moment includes heat electrification and transmission, along with the connection to renewable generation as well.”

NIE Networks is developing its new business plan to 2030 – influenced not only by Stormont’s new energy strategy, but also engaging with experts and clients, to help strengthen and shape the network in the years to come. The main focus for this is the use of smart solutions, data and digitization.

“This role includes our innovation team but also our entire systems team, as we seek collaboration across the entire energy sector,” Andrew says.

It also includes a grid planning function and a look towards uptake of low-carbon technologies, as we focus on forecasting future demands on the grid and investing in facilitating those demands connected to the grid.

“The key is to collaborate – internally across NIE networks and across various facilities and industry – to ensure there is a common approach to the decarbonization journey.

“We are working on the innovations needed to facilitate more renewable generation connections at the lowest cost, while ensuring a continued safe and reliable supply to all customers.

“We also recognize that every decision is made with every customer in mind. As we go through the energy transition and embrace innovations, we must ensure that it is a fair and equitable transition and that we leave no customer behind, especially the most vulnerable.”

NIE Networks is implementing six innovative projects that will help create additional capacity on the distribution network at a cost that is lower than traditional boosting solutions.

One of the areas it focuses on for households and businesses, is the use of smart meters and the receiving of near-real-time data over their network. “Smart meters can help customers reduce their energy bills, but they also allow us to monitor the network and identify problems or limitations. When we see a problem, then we can fix it,” Andrew says.

“Historically, our options have included larger switches and larger cabling, but we are now exploring smart solutions as we manage the network more actively, along with using flexible solutions from customers.”

This includes the ability of customers to increase or decrease their demand in a timely manner to help manage the network, and in some cases receive a financial incentive to do so.

“One of the key things about managing the network more accurately is data and digitization of the network.

“This is where we see network screens, and smart meters, for example, are really essential to help identify constraints in near real time and be able to respond to those in the most effective way.”

NIE Networks has its own plan and strategy through to 2024, but Andrew says planning is currently well underway for the next phase up to 2030.

“We have been closely involved in the development of the Ministry of Economy’s new energy strategy which is a key driver of our upcoming business plan as well as the growth of electrification of the power sector,” he says.

“As we develop our next business plan, we will launch a customer and stakeholder consultation later this year so we can feed their opinions into our plan as well,” Andrew says.

“We are also keen to collaborate more with academia and other utilities – including water and gas – in terms of developing solutions related to decarbonization and where we can take a common approach or learn from each other.

“We will then look at forecasting and modeling to see where growth is likely to occur on the network and then how to approach that in the most cost-effective manner.

“Net zero by 2050 is the ultimate goal that drives much of our agenda and plans, and how the grid can then accommodate the hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles and heat pumps that will be connected to it over the next decade.”

NIE Networks is also steadily working on its apparent journey to achieve net zero. “Within NIE Networks, we are also looking at how to decarbonize our fleet and our buildings,” Andrew says.

He says the 2050 target is achievable, given the current rate of renewable energy generation in Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland has been up close to 50% in terms of renewable energy generation over recent years, and by 2030 it is likely to be at least 70%.”

But continued investment in the network is needed to facilitate both onshore and the development of new marine technology, to ensure Northern Ireland achieves its net zero targets.

In 2021, the NIE Networks released two important research reports regarding the Zero Net Economy Reach.

The first, Networks for Net Zero, outlines options and pathways for decarbonization in Northern Ireland and how electrification can play an important role, while the second shows how electrification of heating and transportation systems will be transformative for both our economy and our environment, creating about 5,000 jobs, and reducing spending on imported fossil fuels. by £1.4 billion annually, and played a significant role in setting Northern Ireland on a path towards an 82% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Investment is required at every stage of the road. NIE Networks currently spends around £100 million annually maintaining and modernizing the electricity transmission and distribution network, bringing electricity to more than 895,000 customers including homes, businesses and farms.

With 1,200 employees and payments to businesses and local authorities, the company contributed more than £160 million to Northern Ireland’s economy in 2021.

“This investment is there to help accommodate growth in load, connections to renewable energy sources and replacement of legacy assets to maintain a safe and secure grid,” Andrew says.

“We expect this to rise over the coming years due to the significant increase in the number of electric vehicles that will be connected to the grid.” And while major investment in traditional infrastructure, such as substations, will continue, Andrew says there is still a renewed focus in the move toward a digital power system.

The pivotal role that electricity will play in decarbonizing heat and transportation as we move toward a net-zero economy will put significant strain on the electricity grid infrastructure that was originally designed to manage a different level and type of demand.

The role of NIE networks is to facilitate the energy transition and decarbonize energy production, while supporting heat electrification and transport.

“We are positive and believe that electrification will be key in decarbonizing every sector and point of contact across our community,” Andrew says.

“More investment will be required to facilitate this, but we believe that in addition to having the technology solutions, we also have the core innovation, people and skills within the NIE Networks to drive this forward.”

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