Two men talking in front of National Grid van on electricity substation

Be a master of innovation

Great minds don’t always think alike. That’s something we value at National Grid. We’re looking for brilliant innovators to help us solve the biggest challenges facing the electricity transmission network in England and Wales. Innovation Engineer Oliver Cwikowski explains how you can get involved.

At National Grid, we’re committed to being an innovative leader in energy management and to safeguarding the world around us for future generations.

We use innovation to bring forward new technologies and ways of working. This creates value for customers and consumers by cutting costs, improving efficiency, reducing environmental impact, maintaining reliability and improving safety.

Innovation in all its forms has huge potential to push our business forward. We’re investing billions of pounds by 2021/2022 to meet the country’s energy needs and help us achieve our climate change targets.

Building a better future is something we can’t achieve alone, so we’re always on the lookout for potential partners who have a passion for tackling the future challenges facing our business.

As a self-aware organisation, we know about the main challenges in front of us, as well as areas where innovation can deliver more value to our customers and the end consumer. We want to know what brilliant, blue-sky ideas might be about to burst onto the stage and help support the development of these concepts into practical solutions.

So we’re inviting all problem-solvers in the electricity industry – across academia and business – to consider our challenges and send us their big ideas for tackling them. We’ll aim to get the best of these off the ground by funding them through the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA).

Here are the three key challenges we’d love to work with you on.

Challenge 1: Cable asset health indicators

We spend a huge amount of money on replacing cables and cable systems. That’s not surprising because we’re responsible for the safe operation of 7,200km of overhead line and 1,500km of underground cables.

We use many methods to quantify the health and condition of our cables and their accessories. However, we are always looking to improve. We want to find more reliable ways of predicting when assets will degrade, so we can plan our maintenance, repairs and replacements in a more informed and cost-effective way.

Can you help us develop new measurement techniques to assess the condition of new and in-service cables and their accessories. We want to reliably predict how their condition will change over their lifetime.

Challenge 2: Transforming civil infrastructure for all transmission assets

Whenever we build electricity infrastructure, civil engineering work makes up a big proportion of the final costs. Because our infrastructure is high and heavy, we need extremely strong foundations to ensure sites are safe. Our foundations also need to cope with the very large forces placed on them during a fault.

As a leading asset management and engineering company, we know what we’re doing now is good. But it could be better. The biggest opportunity here is to find a way of reusing existing foundations, which could unlock significant savings. Ultimately, we’re looking for solutions that meet the same specifications as our existing civils work, but do it better, cheaper or quicker.

Can you help us develop new construction methods and inspection techniques for civil infrastructure in substations and overhead lines?

We’re inviting all problem-solvers in the electricity industry – across academia and business – to consider our challenges and send us their big ideas for tackling them.

– Oliver Cwikowski, Innovation Engineer.

Challenge 3: Increasing transmission boundary power flows

Ofgem sets incentives for our business to encourage innovation on our network in order to keep energy bills low. One way of boosting the savings we pass on to consumers is by increasing the amount of power that flows across transmission boundaries.

When power flows are limited across these boundaries, this increases the cost of energy. If we can find new ways to increase power flow across these boundaries, we can have more options when investing in the network to lower bills for consumers. You can read more about this in our Electricity Ten Year Statement.

What technologies or ideas do you think could make a difference here? It might be new materials, new asset designs, power electronic solutions, or something far more visionary.

Tell us how you would develop ways to increase boundary power flows across the transmission network.

How to get involved

You’ve read our key challenges and I hope they’ve sparked an idea – let’s call it a light-bulb moment. The next step is to send a proposal to our innovation team. It should contain:

  • A covering letter with an overview of your idea and a clear and concise aim related to one of our three innovation challenges.
  • A completed submission document for a 2-3 month feasibility study.

Once all ideas have been submitted, the innovation team will pick the best ideas to be presented to a panel of National Grid colleagues, where they will be assessed for funding. This will involve:

  • A 15-minute presentation on how and why your project would deliver value in this area.
  • A clear statement of what work and developments are needed to achieve the potential benefits of this project, along with a high-level plan to make significant progress towards these in the next 2-3 years.
  • A list of any data or resources related to our business that would help progress your idea.

The presentations will take place in Leamington Spa, venue TBC, from 11-13 December.

Following the presentations, the ideas that are seen to meet the challenges will be funded.

Your proposals must be compliant with the NIA funding criteria and you must be willing to work under the terms of the standard contract.

Our innovation team will review your proposals and will put forward the best ideas for funding under the NIA.

Think outside the box

Whether you’re a university with a talent for developing new technology, a small business, consultancy or large supplier, we’d love to hear from you.

Don’t be afraid to come to us with something that’s quite ‘out there’ – or different. As I said, we’re looking for that next big idea, that blue-sky thinking. And don’t be discouraged if there are hurdles to get over. Teaming up with an organisation as large and well-resourced as ours will provide an opportunity to bring your bright ideas out of the lab and into a solution that benefits our entire industry.

To submit your proposal, complete this form and send it to us. The deadline for submissions is Monday 4 December.