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Our innovation annual summary: fresh thinking for a net zero future

We’ve published our 2021/22 innovation annual summary. Our head of strategy and innovation, Nicola Todd, reflects on some of the fresh thinking and collaborations that are helping take Britain a step closer to net zero.

Delivering the carbon-free electricity network of tomorrow means innovating today – and at National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) we’re working with industry to find new ways to tackle some of the biggest challenges in energy.

Those challenges aren’t in short supply. The growth in renewable generation, coupled with the electrification of heat and transport, demands more and more transmission network capacity. Moreover, global events have shifted political focus onto energy security, and how an affordable, greener grid can boost resilience.

With such challenges comes opportunity – and in our new innovation annual summary we report on the latest Network Innovation Allowance (NIA)-funded projects we’re leading that are putting consumers at the heart of our thinking and making a difference to the energy transition.

Collaboration is the key ingredient in innovation; now more than ever is the time for the energy industry to work together to innovate for net zero.

Over the last year we’ve teamed up with 19 partner organisations on over a dozen NGET-led innovation projects – you can read about some of them below.

This innovation drive – and our collaborations with partners – will be supporting the biggest transformation of the transmission network since it was built.

It’s not only NIA-funded projects in our portfolio: in February we won funding for three innovation projects through Ofgem’s new Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), and that funding has just been extended for two of the projects to develop their concepts from ‘discovery’ to ‘alpha’ phase.

Read on for some of the highlights in our portfolio of innovation projects and activities:

  • Eye in the Sky – one of our successful SIF-funded alpha projects, this innovation initiative sees us working with partners including Spottitt and the European Space Agency to harness satellite data to improve grid resilience. The technology will help improve the visibility of energy infrastructure without the need for manual ground or aerial monitoring. This could boost networks’ emergency response capability to extreme weather events, and benefit consumers by improving grid reliability and system recovery times.

  • Retrofit Insulated Cross Arms (RICA) – funded through the Network Innovation Competition – the predecessor to SIF – our RICA project aims to upgrade Britain’s lower voltage overhead lines to a higher capacity by replacing the standard metallic crossarms from which insulators and conductors are suspended with insulated cross arms. This will boost existing network capacity without the need to build new infrastructure, meaning lower costs for consumers and more renewable generation able to connect to the grid faster.

  • Using drones to automate pylon inspections – the first project of its kind in the UK, our NIA-funded initiative with deep tech start-ups Keen AI and is using automated drones to help us understand the condition of our pylons. We currently manually inspect around 3,650 of our 22,000 steel lattice pylons each year using manually flown drones and helicopters. This innovation could save consumers around £1.2 million in reduced operating costs and faster pylon assessments. Find out more about the project on our stories page.

In the meantime, we’re working on our new innovation strategy which we anticipate publishing later in 2022, reflecting new ambitions and thinking which complements the Energy Networks Association’s broader network innovation strategy (to which we contributed).

We remain very much open for business and want to hear from potential innovation partners to join up with – so please get in touch.