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SO launches first Innovation Strategy

On 1 February, National Grid System Operator (SO) published its first ever Innovation Strategy. It sets out our innovation priorities for 2018 and how we plan to work with industry, academic and other partners to solve the challenges facing Britain’s energy system. Roisin Quinn, Head of SO Strategy, explains more.

The launch of the SO Innovation Strategy comes at a timely moment. If we pause for a moment to think about the pace of change in the energy industry, it’s quite extraordinary.

In 2017 alone, we saw several energy firsts. Britain witnessed its first coal-free day since the Industrial Revolution. Renewable generation also provided more than half of GB electricity demand for the first time.

It’s clear that the world of energy is undergoing a rapid transformation. Innovation will help us adapt to this new world successfully.

Within the SO we recognise the vital role we must play in leading and facilitating innovation. It’s our job to manage the energy system every day and that places us at the heart of the industry.

The work we do also enables other stakeholders in the industry to move ahead with their own innovations. For example, planning how the grid will support the widespread roll-out of electric vehicles is an essential part of planning a sustainable future for decarbonised transport.

So it’s vital that have an open dialogue with stakeholders on where our innovation priorities lie and how we can collaborate in future. Our Innovation Strategy brings together all our thinking in one place.

Where funding comes from

We use our Innovation Strategy to prioritise and focus our investment in innovation so that it delivers maximum value for the system and end consumers.

One main source of funding is Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance (NIA). The focus of this funding is on earlier stage development and small-scale demonstration projects.

Another key source of funding is Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition (NIC). This is a competition that’s open to all Network Licensees and funds larger-scale demonstration work. Up to £70m is made available by Ofgem each year.

We also lead and support bids for other sources of grant funding, such as Innovate UK, the public body that helps businesses to realise the potential of new technologies.

In total we’ve identified 16 priorities that will form the backbone of NGSO’s innovation efforts in 2018.

– Roisin Quinn, Head of SO Strategy

Our methodology

We developed our Innovation Strategy by building on the work done already on National Grid’s Future of Energy publications. We also consulted stakeholders and customers.

The strategy recognises three high-level trends that are transforming the energy sector – decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation. We’ve linked these trends into challenges facing the sector as a whole and the SO in particular.

In total we’ve identified 16 priorities that will form the backbone of NGSO’s innovation efforts in 2018. They cover a wide spectrum of issues. To give you a flavour, these include Distribution System Operators (DSOs) and Whole System operability, delivering enhanced cyber security, creating markets for the future and embracing gas specification diversity.

How do these priorities translate into real-world projects? One example funded from our NIC allowance is Power Potential, a £9.6m project in partnership with UK Power Networks. It is looking at how distributed energy sources could provide reactive power to the grid. The project could save energy consumers more than £400m by 2050 and generate an extra 4GW in the South East of the UK.

Another example is Project CLoCC (Customer Low Cost Connections). It’s a £4.8m project to reduce the time and cost of connecting to the gas National Transmission System for new and existing customers. This includes unconventional gas producers such as biomethane.

Feedback and working together

NGSO does not hold all the answers when it comes to innovation. Indeed, we’re committed to an open approach and we welcome novel ideas on how to tackle our innovation priorities.

You can find guidance on how to submit your ideas for future collaboration on our website. You can also get in touch with us via [email protected]

Finally, I would encourage anyone with an interest in how innovation can help to transform the energy sector to read the strategy and talk to us about your ideas and potential solutions. Together, we can make sure that Britain’s energy system is ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges.