A partial view of a Deeside electricity pylon with a blue and cloudy sky in the background

On the frontline of energy’s future

All the UK’s energy networks came together at the annual Low Carbon Networks and Innovation (LCNI) conference in December. The appetite for innovation was as strong as ever as the industry united to share its latest learning and conquer the key energy challenges in a rapidly changing world.

Some of the leading forces in network innovation took their annual pilgrimage to LCNI 2017 in December, held at the International Centre Telford. As the energy industry moves towards the next RIIO price control period, LCNI remains a must-attend event for anyone with a stake in electricity or gas in the UK.

This year’s gathering was a valuable opportunity for network licensees – including our regulated businesses – to share the results of this year’s innovation projects and to discuss how we can work together to solve the emerging challenges facing power networks.

Let’s hear from three innovation leaders – from our Gas Transmission (GT), System Operator (SO) and Electricity Transmission (ET) businesses – and see what they took home from this year’s event.

Tom Neal, Gas Transmission Innovation Governance Manager

 “The positive power of innovation was apparent across the networks”

It was clearer than ever this year that innovation funding – through the Network Innovation Competition (NIC) and Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) – is having a direct and positive impact on the UK’s energy networks. All licensees had well thought out, rapidly maturing portfolios of projects and you could really see where the value for consumers was starting to come through.

Consumer value, of course, is the underlying goal for all our innovation. It’s about finding a better, more intelligent way to do things, so we can become more efficient and pass those benefits on to people.

This important goal was at the heart of our own stand, which focused on five very different cornerstone projects – GRAID (Gas Robotic Agile Inspection Device), ART (Acoustic Resonance Technology), CLoCC (Customer Low Cost Connections), AI for pipeline coating and Valve sealant line grouted tee.

The desire for innovation across the networks and our project partners is stronger than ever. In GT, we’ve been working hard to make the innovation process simpler and more accessible for potential partners – and the message is clearly getting through.

Feedback from delegates was positive; they told us they recognised us as a trusted innovation team and were happy that we’d created new channels for them to get the support and advice they need. By making ourselves more accessible, I’m sure we’ll generate more focused ideas for new NIC and NIA innovation.

I was thrilled to see delegates engaged in the work we’re doing on the Gas Network Innovation Strategies. Currently under consultation, this piece of work is all about identifying how the future might look for gas and unlocking the themes, gaps and opportunities that new projects and ideas can fill.

We discussed the strategies in a number of breakout sessions and there was plenty of agreement that we’re moving in the right direction. The consultation runs until the end of December, so we’d encourage everyone to take a look at the strategies and give us their feedback.Overall, we built on previous years with more content, more projects and more details. Thanks to everyone we met over the two days and I look forward to seeing all of you at next year’s event.

Jeffrey Beyer, System Operator Innovation Strategy Manager

“The driving force for all our innovation is how it will benefit the end consumer”

This year’s LCNI was packed with interesting and dynamic innovations from all network licensees. In the SO, our stand showed how NIA-funded innovation projects are helping overcome some of the challenges we face.

We used virtual reality (VR) technology to bring to life technical concepts such as system frequency, grid balancing and reactive power, and explained how innovation projects have improved our performance in these areas. We know that these concepts can be difficult to understand, so getting delegates to interact with them using VR really helped develop their understanding.

Like all National Grid businesses, the driving force for our innovation work is how it will benefit the end consumer. Every project we do goes through an assessment and evaluation process which challenges whether the project is genuinely new, and asks how consumers will benefit.

LCNI remains a must-attend event for anyone with a stake in electricity or gas in the UK.

– National Grid

To deliver projects, we partner with external suppliers from across industry and education, and always want to hear about interesting solutions that match our innovation priorities. This year’s LCNI was a great opportunity to talk to delegates who’ve previously worked with us – or bid to work with us – on NIA and NIC funded projects. We were able to get their reflections on our work so far, explain our new innovation process, and encourage them to get in touch to share their ideas.

It was also a chance to explore emerging themes in our industry and see where innovation will be needed in future. A key trend we’re keen to explore is how DNOs (Distributed Network Operators) are moving towards becoming DSOs (Distributed System Operators).

There was also a lot of discussion about the three Ds that are driving change in the electricity industry – decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation. The anticipated explosion of electric vehicles was another interesting area for the SO, particularly the opportunities that exist for grid balancing through emerging vehicle-to-grid storage technology.

One thing that surprised me was the level of agreement across energy networks about where the industry is headed, and the main challenges that need to be tackled in order to get there. What was most exciting is how innovation is transforming these challenges into real opportunities that will deliver more value to consumers, create commercial opportunities for UK business, strengthen our network, and unlock the low carbon future we need.

Gemma Pead, Electricity Transmission Innovation Stakeholder Officer

“The networking opportunities at LCNI help us stay at the forefront of innovation”

LCNI was, once again, a great opportunity to talk to our stakeholders, explore new opportunities and gain valuable feedback on all the projects we showcased.

With so many industry innovators under one roof, we were able to make important new contacts and strengthen our relationships with existing partners. Taking time to build these important bonds means we can look forward to even more collaboration that keeps us at the forefront of innovation.

Among the highlights for us in ETO was the high amount of interest in our Deeside project. Deeside is a new innovation facility that will help us accelerate the implementation of new ideas and technologies, allowing us to benefit from them being on the network faster than ever. Delegates gave us lots of feedback on the types of technologies they would like to see trialled and how we can best put the facility to use in future.

Our breakout sessions on g3 were another big success. With so much focus across the networks on shrinking our environmental footprint, delegates were keen to hear about the novel alternative to SF6. G3 (Green Gas for Grid) is a new gas mixture that delivers the same technical benefits as SF6, while reducing carbon emissions by a phenomenal 98%.

Overall, the event was the perfect opportunity to share what we’ve learned and reinforce the real reason that we innovate.

Put simply, we’re motivated to innovate by a need to run, build and maintain our network more efficiently and effectively. Embedding innovation and new technology into our business helps us deliver continuous improvements in the quality and cost of our services – ultimately adding up to a better deal for the UK’s energy consumers.

LCNI was a brilliant chance to show the work we’re doing to improve our network. And also to talk to delegates about new ideas for how we can run it faster, cheaper, greener and more flexibly than ever before.

So there you have it. As our industry continues to evolve at a rapid pace, emerging challenges won’t easily be resolved. We need the UK’s best academics and engineering businesses to stay focused on innovation, so we can continue to deliver energy to the UK’s consumers in a secure, cost-effective and reliable way. With that in mind, we ask everyone who attended this year’s event to spread the word so we can make 2018 an even bigger success.

Next year’s event will be held in October, back at Telford’s International Centre. Both our business and the Energy Networks Association (ENA) are keen to hear your thoughts on this year’s event as well as any ideas you might have to keep it fresh and genuinely useful for everyone.