UK Power Networks, a wires-only utility managing three distribution grids in the United Kingdom and serving approximately 20 million people, is implementing a novel holistic approach to network operations and distributed energy resource (DER) lifecycle management.

The utility's new approach, which should be implemented by the end of 2020, is based on an innovative active network management (ANM) system. It is one of the most advanced grid planning and operations digitalization efforts in the electricity industry, according to a new WoodMac case study.

UKPN plans to use the ANM system as its default tool for network operations, grid planning and customer engagement — as opposed to the piecemeal approach to incorporating DERs adopted by many utilities in the U.S. and Europe.

Managing network constraints in a new way

So, what exactly is the ANM system?

UKPN’s ANM system will allow the utility to monitor, contract and dispatch DERs integrated into its network, from renewables and batteries to electric vehicles and advanced power electronic devices. Moreover, it will allow the distributor to balance load more efficiently and enable future flexibility services.

The ANM system will help UKPN run tenders to procure flexible capacity, which will be used to defer network reinforcements and manage short-term network constraints. To this end, the ANM platform will include an automated DER tendering system, whose ability to provision short-term flexibility services will make it the first of its kind in the world.

UKPN will not own the DER assets or gain directly from selling electricity but rather will allow market participants to provide a service to the grid.

The platform will rely on a comprehensive and dynamic asset registry and online portal that will collect and log customer preferences to facilitate the contracting of DERs. These will be dispatched for a variety of uses, such as managing outages and helping reduce peak loads on feeders and high-voltage substations.

Several vendors are providing software for the ANM system, including Smarter Grid Solutions, Nexant and GreenSync.

Where UKPN fits into the global grid edge landscape

UKPN has committed to making non-wires alternatives its default approach to network reinforcements, and the ANM system will be instrumental for this.

The company plans to tender flexibility contracts for most of its load-related network reinforcements through 2023 and is currently running a tender for 170 megawatts of flexible capacity requirements.

UKPN’s efforts take place against the backdrop of a U.K. power industry initiative known as Open Networks Project.

Utilities in the United States and Australia have also been working to develop non-wires alternatives, even though results have been less encouraging than in the U.K. None have developed a platform to harness DERs for short-term flexibility needs in the style of UKPN.

Utilities should keep an eye on UKPN’s system as it rolls out, according to Wood Mackenzie, while vendors can use UKPN as a positive example in discussions with utilities.

Wood Mackenzie also notes that building a platform to connect and manage DERs on their networks will be increasingly important for distribution utilities around the world as the penetration of intermittent and distributed generation, energy storage and EVs increases.


Francesco Menonna is a grid edge research analyst at Wood Mackenzie and author of "UK Power Networks’ ANM System and Flexibility Tenders: A Grid Edge Case Study."  The case study shares more about how UKPN developed its platform and the technology's implications for utilities, vendors and customers.