Energy networks launch 40 new innovation projects to accelerate transition to net zero

Britain’s energy networks have launched 40 new innovation projects to help boost the Net Zero transition with new ways to decarbonise heat and transport amongst them. 

The projects will explore new ideas for gas and electricity networks, with the potential to benefit consumers and help transform the UK’s energy systems in line with net zero targets in the coming years.

They are the first to be given the go-ahead under Ofgem’s new Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) partnership with Innovate UK. The projects will receive up to £150,000 to carry out a two-month ‘discovery’ phase on their proposal to further explore their potential.

Addressing some of the biggest challenges that energy networks face in the journey to net zero, the projects focus on heat, zero emission transport, data and digitalisation, and whole system integration. 

The innovations being explored range from technologies and approaches taken for the large-scale storage of heat, to circuit breakers enabling the increasing amounts of power from offshore wind turbines to be connected to the grid.

The projects include Eye in the Sky, which investigates how satellite data can be used in emergencies such as flooding or wildfires to plan electricity grid repairs, keep equipment and people safe and help ‘keep the lights on.’

Other projects look at technologies linked to the future uses of hydrogen in the energy system – from helping electric vehicle charging cope at the busiest times using hydrogen, to testing new metallic coatings which will protect pipework from accelerated wear and tear, and the potential for using nuclear power to generate hydrogen.

There are also studies preparing for the transition to zero-emission transport; for example, looking at using hydrogen to power heavy-duty vehicles, and developing a toolkit to help planners understand how gas and electricity networks can help decarbonise rail transport.     

Gas and electricity networks are working collaboratively with over 200 partners and submitted their proposals in a competitive process managed by Innovate UK, which is delivering the SIF in partnership with Ofgem.

After this initial two month phase those projects judged to have the greatest potential will be awarded up to £500,000 to take their ideas forward. After this there will be a further selection process, with successful projects receiving more funding and able to carry out large-scale demonstrations of their technologies.

The ultimate aim is to develop transformative new SIF innovations which can be rolled out across all UK energy networks, making them fit for the future and delivering benefits for both consumers and the planet.

Neil Kenward, Ofgem Director for Strategy and Decarbonisation, said: “Innovation in the energy sector is crucial to help us transform the way we travel, heat our homes, and fuel our industries at the lowest cost to consumers.

“Ofgem set up the Strategic Innovation Fund to help accelerate a transition to low carbon energy which is fair, affordable and inclusive for consumers. We hope these 40 pioneering green projects will blaze a trail in innovation that will help us diversify our energy supplies, protecting consumers from future energy shocks as well as protecting the planet.”

Indro Mukerjee, chief executive of Innovate UK, said: “We’re very pleased to be working closely with Ofgem and the energy sector on the Strategic Innovation Fund, and pleased with its progress. Innovate UK is committed to supporting the UK’s world-leading businesses and researchers to shape a sustainable and fair future economy.“

Matt Hastings, Deputy Director of the Ofgem SIF programme at Innovate UK, said: “The SIF aims to respond to the urgency needed to deliver net zero. Launching 40 projects in parallel, involving 100% of the UK energy networks, shows we can embrace new approaches, move quickly and take more calculated risks.

 “We strongly believe we can make the UK the best place in the world to be an energy consumer, and the best place in the world to be an energy entrepreneur. Working together, we can use the Strategic Innovation Fund to help turn the UK into the ‘Silicon Valley’ of energy.”

The Strategic Innovation Fund is a five-year programme with up to £450m available to promote energy network innovation. Ofgem and Innovate UK are working to identify further innovation challenges for round two of the SIF, working closely with all energy networks, network users and consumers, and will issue another call for proposals in the autumn of 2022.

Dan Clarke, Head of Innovation at Energy Networks Association, which represents the UK and Ireland’s energy network businesses, said: “Funding these 40 new innovation projects across electricity and gas networks is another step forward to a Net Zero future. It will allow us to identify long-term strategic innovations through a series of rapid innovation projects. By looking at new ways to decarbonise heat and transport, harnessing the power of data and digitalisation, and taking a whole-system approach is the best, most cost-effective way of delivering value for customers and accelerating the Net Zero transition.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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