ABB: a strategic partner for UK Power Networks’ digital future

A successful pilot paves the way for centralized protection in UK Power Networks’ infrastructure, which delivers power to nearly a third of the UK population.

UK Power Networks, the utility that owns and maintains electricity cables, power lines and equipment across the East and South-East of England, including London, has chosen ABB as a strategic partner following a successful pilot installation of ABB Ability™ smart substation control and protection for electrical systems SSC600. The technology, which provides substation-wide control and protection for electrical systems has been monitoring one of the company’s substations since 2019 and UK Power Networks is impressed.


The ever-increasing pace of change in electrical infrastructure brings many challenges for traditional power networks. Today’s environment is far more complex and faces much more demand than it did 15-20 years ago. The new world of distributed energy generation, energy storage and electric vehicles is no longer far away - it is already here.

UK Power Networks serves 19 million people – 29% of the United Kingdom’s population - with electricity, which is quite a responsibility. The company anticipated changes in power generation and consumer behavior early, recognizing the need for a digital platform that can be rapidly deployed and secured. Alongside their interest in adopting an IEC 61850 global standard-based architecture, in 2015, they began following developments in the concept of centralized protection and control.

“I was keen to test a centralized system because I saw that consolidating protection and control functions into fewer devices simplifies the Engineering process, maintenance and also reduces the substation footprint,” said Colin Scoble, Senior Protection Engineer in the Technical Sourcing and Standards Department at UK Power Networks. “In my experience, the process bus and station bus have been crying out for a centralized device to collect all the process data and provide one central location for decision-making and reporting.”

When ABB launched SSC600 in 2018, it was exactly what Colin had been looking for: “SSC600 seemed like everything we wanted and a little bit more because it was all in a centralized box,” he said.

Efficiency with a real-time network view

Since late 2019, ABB’s pilot installation of SSC600 has been monitoring an 11kV substation in Maidstone, Kent, which is an important location for UK Power Networks, with multiple substations within a single footprint serving a large customer base. The project, named Unified Protection, is funded by the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) fund and will be completed in the spring of 2021. The aim of the project is to ensure engineering efficiency without compromising the reliability of the power system. ABB’s solution, installed by the Electrification Business’ Digital Solution Center, has been a great success.

“Following the proof of concept phase implemented last year, we now plan to deliver a full centralized protection and control system on site,” continued Scoble. “This next phase will take only a month or two. That’s really fast, and once the digital platform is in place, we can deploy all the new algorithms, cyber security features and software upgrades our substations need. This will take only a matter of weeks,” he added.

In addition to easy updates and modifications, the digital platform sets the foundation for future needs. From the utility’s perspective, it also enables the huge volumes of data collected from the network to be used in decision-making and dynamic network management.

“From predictive fault management to power quality issues, all the measurements we need are immediately available on the digital platform. Conventional protection and control systems never gave us that real-time information,” said Scoble.


The collaboration continues

Convinced by ABB’s pilot project demonstrating the concept and benefits of centralized protection and control, UK Power Networks will now move forward with their strategic plan to upgrade a number of their substations with the digital platform. New-build substations can benefit from centralized protection and control from the start. The utility plans to install ten centralized protection and control systems over the next two years to fully adopt the technology.

“Obviously we have to go through a regulated procurement process for anything that we adapt as business as usual solutions,” said Scoble.

Ofgem, the government regulator for gas and electricity markets in the UK, also saw the potential of digital technology for protection and control and part funded the pilot project. While UK Power Networks is a forerunner in the adoption of this technology, other power distribution companies are showing an interest and following developments in the UK very carefully.

“Sometimes it’s best to be the first because you can influence developments to meet your own needs,” said Scoble. “The project was a success because both ABB as the supplier and UK Power Networks as the utility learned a lot in terms of the practicalities of a roll out and what benefits the technology can really deliver. We’ll continue our partnership with ABB, exchanging information about new developments and changing demands in the industry. That’s how we’ll ensure that the industry as a whole can benefit,” he underlined.

For information on ABB Ability smart substation control and protection for electrical systems SSC600 and the benefits of centralized protection and control in power networks, visit this link




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