Northern Powergrid (NPg) has unveiled an £83 million plan to upgrade thousands of substations that will allow more solar to connect to its network without the need for costly upgrades.

Smart Grid Enablers will run to 2023 to deliver what the distribution network operator (DNO) has called the most comprehensive network upgrade programme in the UK and the most radical changes to its network since the 1970s.

More than 8,000 substations will be upgraded to increase NPg’s ability to monitor, control and communicate across its network.

High-bandwidth digital communications links will be installed to over 860 major substations and 7,200 secondary substations, replacing old analogue links; transformer monitoring control units in 750 major substations, and the equipment that allows them to control voltage, will be replaced; and controllers in over 860 major substations will either be replaced or upgraded.

Monitoring equipment will be installed in 1,300 secondary substations for the first time while data will be collected from 2,000 existing sites. New data warehouses will be created to process the information from substations and from domestic smart meters.

The improved communications systems will create what NPg has called “the backbone of a smart grid” which will allow the DNO to use live and accurate load data to identify where it can connect more solar power, as well as electric vehicles, without costly upgrades.

In addition, by being able to control voltage on local networks it will be able to support increased numbers of solar panels and electric vehicles.

Patrick Erwin, Policy and Markets Director at Northern Powergrid, said: “Our Smart Grid Enablers programme is putting our region at the forefront of the low-carbon revolution. It will make us ready to support rapid growth of electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar power in the next decade, while maintaining a reliable system and keeping costs as low as possible for all our customers.

“This is the most comprehensive upgrade programme of any UK network operator and will give us a state of the art command and control capability, enabling us to respond to real-time information about power flow on our network.”

The programme responds to the unprecedented change in the UK’s energy system resulting from the rise of solar and other renewable generation resources.

Increasing amounts of electricity are being produced by solar panels, wind farms and other forms of intermittent, local generation and as well as underpinning the company’s transition to a Distribution System Operator (DSO), NPg’s programme will seek to accommodate further increases in the future.

By adopting these technologies to accommodate the growth of emerging energy resources affecting regional networks, NPg will be able to roll out smart solutions that could save up to £500 million by 2031 compared to staying with conventional solutions.