Electric networks are facing more variable loads at the local level (down to LV), including demands, such electric vehicles and heat pumps, embedded generation, such as photovoltaic, micro-hydro and wind and more variability of population density. These localised demand peaks put stress on the system and risk, leading to phase imbalance, voltage frequency and waveform issues, increased outage (customer interruptions, network interruptions), and thermal issues.
Traditional management of the network to mitigate those risks would lead to many issues. These include wholescale network capacity upgrades i.e. lay larger cables, larger transformers, major disruption, including to traffic and customers (planned outages), and significant increases to charges. These impacts would be unacceptable to customers and other stakeholders, including those whose journeys are interrupted by street works.
In the future Distribution Network Operators will need to become Distribution System Operators (DSOs). They will use LV automation and switching to balance loads and demands, This will mean a move towards Active (or Adaptive) Network Management, to be able to minimise and optimise the need for network upgrades. As such they will manage local networks like large national Transmission networks.
To become a Distribution System Operator, a network operator will need a solid base. This includes a sound connectivity model, the ability to link/share connectivity details with modelling tools, and secure links between core asset systems (e.g. GIS/aDMS). A few orgaisations are already moving in this direction, and I am currently involved in a DSO project. Such changes will become ‘the norm’ over the next few years.