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SP Energy Networks leads the way with trailblazing AI-led ‘digital twin’ that will change the future of the UK energy industry

Posted: 7th July 2023

  • SP Energy Networks awarded £10M to create first-of-its-kind ‘digital twin’ of electricity network
  • AI-led tool will be first energy project funded by Prosperity Partnership Fund by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Project gives green jobs and investment boost on journey to a clean energy future 

In a series of UK firsts, SP Energy Networks is set to create a ‘digital twin’ of the country’s electricity network that will model and test digital solutions to managing increased electricity demand on its real-life counterpart thanks to a funding boost from the UKRI.

Using AI and state of the art technology, ENSIGN (ENergy System dIGital twiN) will be the first model of its kind and also the first energy project funded by the Engineering, Physics and Sciences Research Council’s Prosperity Partnership Fund.

Developed in collaboration with leading Scottish universities – Strathclyde, Glasgow, Heriot Watt and St Andrews – it will help identify the best ways to optimise capacity and incorporate green energy technologies on to the network as homes and businesses make the switch to cleaner and greener fuels on the road to net zero emissions.

The ground-breaking digital project is based on finding the best options for managing increased electricity demand on an energy network platform – hosted by the University of Strathclyde – from the decarbonisation of heating and industry as well as hydrogen use, which will be modelled by the other partner universities.

This will allow SP Energy Networks to identify best practice and solutions that can be deployed in real-life to deliver an optimised, reliable, resilient, and cost-effective energy network of the future.

The pioneering project will also be the first step in revolutionary changes for UK consumers as the digital twin network will create new virtual links between homes and businesses and the grid. This will be the first stage in creating a new digital layer to the smart grid of the future that will ultimately allow consumers to have a more interactive relationship with the grid, enabling energy retailers to offer better information and services to homeowners.

As well as allowing the universities to get involved in creating real change for the energy industry in the UK, it will also create 20 new, highly skilled, academic research jobs for the five-year duration of the project.

Scott Mathieson, Network Planning and Regulation Director at SP Energy Networks said: “The pace of change in the energy industry is like nothing we’ve ever seen so it’s vital we can stress-test tech and services to identify the best solutions and ensure the network remains fit for purpose as we move towards an all-electric future. This new ‘digital twin’ will allow us to simulate innovations and understand the potential benefits of new services in a whole new light, giving us meaningful insights that will directly impact what we do in the real world.

“To do that, we’re partnering with some of the world’s most renowned universities and bringing together the best minds and machinery to create something truly unique, which is really exciting.

“The insights from this project will help shape the future of the energy system in the UK and offer the potential to transform the energy grids of countries around the world. Having the support of the Prosperity Partnership enables us to drive this industry-leading project to create a cleaner, greener and better future, quicker, for everyone.”

James Yu, Head of Innovation at SP Energy Networks said: “Net zero will only be possible if we have the network infrastructure and innovative energy system to manage the increased demand from the likes of heat pumps or electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. This AI-led project is the first step in revolutionising how we interact with the electricity grid and informing how we use the electricity that will power our cleaner and greener lives – all while keeping the lights on.

“Digitalisation of the energy system is a critical step in enabling the UK’s transition to net zero carbon emissions and the digital twin will help us forecast – right down to street level – how many heat pumps can be used, or where and when it’s best to charge your electric car. That will help us plan and prioritise better and ensure we provide the electricity network people don’t just want – but need.

“It is a privilege to initialise and lead this exciting project for the industry in conjunction with our academic partners, to help that happen and we can’t wait to get to work.”

Professor Campbell Booth, Vice-Dean Research in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Strathclyde said: “This Partnership will create an Integrated Energy System-Digital Twin to facilitate reliable, resilient, affordable, low-carbon, multi-vector energy systems of the future. It will create the knowledge, visibility and applications that are urgently required for accurate and informed decision-making, risk management, and various other functions that will be required for effective planning, design and operation of future energy systems.”

Once complete, the project’s findings are expected to be rolled-out to other distribution network operators across the UK and further afield.

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