Artist impression of new T-pylons marching across a landscape

Innovation report guides National Grid towards the future

Taking an open approach to innovation and working with research partners across the energy industry is helping Electricity Transmission (ET) to deliver value to stakeholders and end-consumers.

ET has published its Network Innovation Annual Summary report for 2017/18 this week, which covers projects carried out by ET’s innovation team together with research partners from industry and academia; including Cardiff University and University of Southampton.

The improvements those projects are delivering will ultimately lead to the transmission networks in England and Wales being run more efficiently, resulting in cost-savings for consumers.

David Wright, Director of Electricity Transmission, said: “Innovation is one of the pillars helping us to shape the energy landscape of the future. This report is a snapshot of the innovations we are delivering on behalf of customers and end-consumers.

“We are funded by Ofgem to innovate and the report lays out where that funding has been spent. For example, over the 2017/18 period £3.44m went towards researching ways to increase the lifespan and performance of assets. The more we know, the better we can maintain assets at the lowest cost and with the least amount of disruption to our customers.”

Iliana Portugues, Head of Innovation for Electricity Transmission, continues: “Investing in research, collaborating with our partners and sharing that knowledge with the rest of the energy industry is how we play our part in delivering cost-savings. That also comes from predicting the future energy needs of the country, reducing maintenance costs and the impact on the environment.”

Innovation is one of the pillars helping us to shape the energy landscape of the future.

– David Wright, Director of Electricity Transmission.

Reducing the impact on the environment is just one reason the innovation team has been looking at materials that you might not immediately associate with cutting-edge innovation. For example, one research project looked at how constructing a bamboo wall around substation assets could reduce noise pollution.

Iliana explains how the low-cost, but highly effective option reflects the team’s approach to innovation: “At first you’d question the use of something like bamboo, which doesn’t seem obvious or indeed modern. But that’s what taking a fresh, unbound approach to every problem is all about – the last thing we want is to reinvent the wheel.”

A large part of the report presents an update on the Deeside project, near the River Dee. The conversion of a 400,000 Volt (400kV) substation into a test facility allows National Grid, and other energy industry players, to trial and evaluate technologies and new practices. The facility is still being completed, but several research projects have already been trialled there; including ways to inspect transmission tower foundations without having to dig up their foundations. This means the health of assets can be quickly checked and repairs planned in advance.

David believes that innovation is the key to a modern, future-proofed transmission network: “Electricity Transmission’s research is driven by the belief that innovation can change the very idea of how we use and monitor network assets. We can make that vision of the future network a reality by solving the engineering problems of today. National Grid fosters an open approach to innovation and it would be great to hear from businesses who want to partner with us on research projects.”

Iliana wants the report to not only give people an insight into her team’s work, but to trigger some imaginative engineering solutions in the minds of readers: “I hope that after reading about the work we’ve been doing, we will hear from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) who want to partner with us on research projects. Our strategy isn’t just about addressing the immediate problems of today, but how the research prepares the network for the coming decades.”