World-first plan to connect UK electricity network with 5G promises to improve efficiency and sustainability

Vodafone and UK Power Networks have announced a world-first trial to connect parts of the UK’s electricity network with high-speed 5G. The deal is part of the electricity network operator’s Constellation project, which will see powerful computers installed in electricity substations so they can communicate with each other in real-time, over 5G, to improve efficiency. Increasing efficiency will enable more clean energy sources and low carbon technologies like electric vehicles to connect to the network. 

Industry experts including General Electric, the University of Strathclyde, ABB and Siemens will develop and demonstrate software solutions so that each substation can edit the configuration of the network automatically to run more efficiently. It means they will be able to respond to dynamic changes to the electricity network or future demands caused by large scale shifts to renewable energy, electric vehicles and electric heating.

The project aims to help the UK’s net-zero carbon ambitions by creating extra room for renewables on the network. UK Power Networks has seen a huge rise in the volume of clean energy like wind and solar connecting to the grid over the past ten years, going from just a handful of large, centralised generators in 1990 to more than 170,000 today. These range from household solar panels to large-scale commercial wind farms.

If rolled out across the country, the solution being trialled in Constellation could save 63,702 tonnes of CO2 by 2050 which is equivalent to the carbon emissions of 38,607 return flights from London to New York.

The smart substations needed to manage the electricity network in real-time will communicate with each other over a dedicated, highly secure slice of Vodafone’s 5G Standalone (5G SA) network. Once substations are connected using 5G, which is up to 100 times faster than 3G and ten times faster than 4G, each substation will be able to analyse millions of data points and manage the network to run more efficiently.

“Helping our customers achieve their ambitious net-zero targets is an essential part of our strategy,” Andrea Dona, chief network officer at Vodafone UK, said. ”The team at UK Power Networks has seen the huge potential of 5G and network slicing. 5G is replacing older and more expensive technologies, it is also bringing about new capabilities that benefit everyone.”

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