Smart Energy Network

Smart Energy Network

The Smart Energy Network scenario is told from the perspective of the future looking back on the past. It describes how energy generated and distributed in the future could become more local and resilient to faults, and looks at Newcastle Helix's role in this.

There are many potential causes of power outages including unforeseen failures in the energy grid: damage from extreme weather, such as flooding, or a terrorist attack that could cripple grid infrastructure.

Linking together the computing components that gathered information about the network made switching decisions and electricity distribution more responsive to physical damage.

It made it more reliable by allowing it to distribute and store energy in ways that were not possible before and run through a series of energy distribution options more quickly.

The Cyber Physical Lab at Newcastle Helix played a key role in making this possible. It brought together science and engineering disciplines to come up with design techniques that link the digital to the physical. This allowed engineers – for the first time – to explore a wide range of different designs for the computing and electricity sides together.

Once Newcastle’s smart grid had become fully operational it provided ways to manage and reduce the risk of power failures that could potentially leave hundreds of thousands of people without power.

Digitally enabling the energy network made the power and information sides of it interdependent. Some risks increased such as the threat of a power cut due to a cyber attack. However, we were able to build resilience to a wide variety of faults or attacks by designing the software and computing elements with the physical infrastructure. This included transmission lines and substations.

Making better use of assets

Early smart energy network initiatives were about making better use of the assets already in place without having to change the entire energy supply system to meet demand. For it to work it needed to control when to store energywhen to distribute it and how it interacted with the network.

The biggest advantages of the smart grid included the:

  • ability to store energy
  • add and control energy demand
  • reconfigure the network 

This meant that the smart grid could still provide energy if a large central power station went offline. For Newcastle this was tested in Newcastle Helix's Smart Grid Lab.

Scientists at the Smart Grid Lab would simulate the distribution of power under future scenarios including the proliferation of electric vehicles or a power cut due to severe weather. Using data gathered from the Newcastle Helix energy network it would run models in real-time that would interact with the hardware on site. Hardware included:

  • large batteries for energy storage
  • renewable energy generation
  • an EV charger

For the first time, these models integrated the computing network with the power generation, distribution and storage. Since they were developed with the Newcastle Cyber Physical Lab and the Newcastle Helix Decision Theatre they enabled all kinds of stakeholders to explore and comment on alternative futures. This included community groups and businesses.


Allowing Newcastle’s energy network to evolve into a ‘smart grid’ meant that people didn’t have to wait for power to be restored and were notified of faults by their smart device.

Immediate information about faults

If an outage were to occur the smart grid responds immediately to the fault. It provides power distributers with detailed information about the Newcastle energy network. This means operators can make informed decisions.

Micro-grid runs on stored power

Newcastle's micro-grid goes into ‘island mode’ if the outage takes place outside of Newcastle. This means that it disconnects from the national grid and runs on stored energy. It also uses any local power generation, such as from renewables or gas turbines.

If the outage occurs within the smart grid itself it is possible to locate the fault in the network. We can then prevent it from disrupting power distribution to other areas. Using data provided by smart grid sensors, vulnerable parts of the energy network could be identified. This allows distributers to focus on making them more secure.

No need to wait for power to be restored

Homes, businesses and municipal services such as hospitals in the city would risk going without grid power for lengths of time on a manual grid. Smart grid technologies have reduced if not eliminated the time required to restore power.

People no longer have to wait for the restoration of power. Their mobile phone or smart meter notified them of any problems in the energy network. If you depended on electric heating then energy storage and next generation computing would keep the lights on and keep you warm. 

Some public services and businesses already had power back-up which were not used more than once per year or even less. The city’s smart grid enabled them to be used as a resource for other parts of the city where needed.

This proved to be especially helpful in driving down prices for electricity peak demands. In particular, for air conditioning systems which were often driving peaks during summer heat waves. The city’s heating and cooling network also assisted in meeting energy demands that stemmed from indoor climate control.

Other benefits

Saving money

A smart energy network could notify you about what loads were costing you the most and help you find ways to reduce them. 

For example, if you were running a washer or dryer during times of peak demand, the energy network would inform you that doing the washing an hour or two later could help you save on your energy bill.

Reducing carbon footprint

The smart energy network would summarise in real time how much energy you were consuming from different sources. It could help you plan your own low carbon strategy. 

Newcastle´s carbon footprint was 1.67 million tons of CO2 in 2012. Most emissions originated from industry. Domestic use played a large role contributing 34% of CO2 generated by Newcastle, and 30% for the entire country in 2010.

Vouchers and prizes

Energy suppliers provided incentives such as vouchers and prizes. These went to people who met their carbon reduction goals.

When Science Central was first built the idea was for demonstrations on site to extend to the surrounding area. The aim was to benefit residents, tenants and commercial partners. 

The smart grid enhanced business opportunities in energy supply. 

Get involved

There are a number of ways you can get involved, including:

  • working with labs at the Urban Sciences building to develop design techniques for building smart grid infrastructure
  • testing prototype smart grid equipment and intelligent consumer products at the Smart Grid Lab
  • testing smartgrid technologies that respond to energy users’ needs
  • devising solutions for reducing fuel poverty in Newcastle using Decision Theatre

For further information email: 

All illustrations copyright 2015 Katie Chappell