In a bold demonstration of how the U.K. is leveraging innovations to meet its net zero targets, National Grid announced in May 2021 that the U.K. would be the world’s first example of the use of large-scale modular power technologies. The multinational electricity and gas utility set out plans to install modular technology at several of its substations in the north of England.

Modular substations offer increased efficiency and flexibility. They are an important component in achieving a balance between the schedule and load/generation constraints needed to meet demand. This will be particularly crucial as the U.K. increases its reliance on renewable energy while demand for electricity continues to rise. The unpredictable nature of renewable energy sources, combined with changing consumption habits, will necessitate new and flexible transmission and distribution infrastructure to meet demand and effectively utilise the energy generated.

Modular substations offer a variety of benefits for network operators, renewables developers and others looking to implement a flexible solution.

Rapid, Cost-Effective Deployment

Modular substations are designed to serve as a quickly deployable, cost-effective connection. The unit design for fully mobile solutions, on the other hand, can be expensive, has overall design and transport constraints, and doesn’t work well as a permanent solution. This is largely due to the design and construction techniques used. Alternatively, permanent substations require significant field construction time and have limited flexibility to scale with load/generation growth, resulting in a restricted ability to redeploy equipment while controlling costs.

By utilising equipment manufactured and assembled before arriving on-site, then placed on foundations that require minimal work, modular substations can be quickly and easily deployed for a reduced construction schedule. Additionally, safety hazards are minimised as the team spends less time in the field constructing necessary units, which can be difficult amid adverse weather conditions.

Adaptable to Fluctuating Supply and Demand

The emergence of electric vehicles and the anticipated rise in the use of electricity for home heating represent two significant changes in energy use that the grid will need to accommodate. The flexibility afforded by modular substations will help prepare the grid to respond to the inevitable dips and spikes in demand and supply on the road to net zero carbon.

The flexibility of modular substations increases by leveraging skid-mounted solutions. These transport the assets on movable platforms to meet high-voltage connection needs and energy demands, enabling a reduced project delivery schedule. The solution’s ability to scale pairs especially well with renewable energy projects that demand high-voltage connection capabilities and adaptability in the face of fluctuating demand.

The importance of flexibility has been underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic. With commercial power needs declining and residential demand increasing as large numbers of employees have worked from home, these dips and spikes could be better managed by a modular substation.

Flexible, Transportable Infrastructure

Most of a modular substation’s equipment can be relocated to a different project site relatively easily, offering an adaptable solution that reduces abandonment costs and lengthens asset life spans. Bays can be added to support future energy demands — whether that load changes because of fluctuating residential patterns or an increased need for solar and wind power — to provide reliable service for both residents and businesses.

With movable assets facilitating project relocation, modular substations offer flexible and scalable solutions to meet unique needs. They are designed and manufactured to adapt to fluctuating demand and accommodate unique connection requirements.

Modular substations are a natural fit for a zero-carbon grid. Providing increased efficiency and flexibility, combined with rapid deployment and easy transportation, they will be an increasingly important tool in the energy sector’s infrastructure as both reliance on renewables and electricity demand grow in the years to come.


An increasing dependence on intermittent renewables is altering the load curve. Utilities must implement strategies to maintain reliability. Foresight and flexibility are keys on this path to decarbonisation.

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Matt Brough is a chartered engineer and substations section manager at Burns & McDonnell. He is an experienced senior primary systems/lead engineer, highly skilled in all aspects of substation engineering at numerous voltage levels with a particular focus on higher transmission level substations.