Posted: 18 November 2015
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Collaborate to innovate

From radical robotics to pioneering pipe locators, National Grid will be showcasing a range of exciting innovation projects at the LCNI Conference in Liverpool next week. Richard Court, Head of RIIO Delivery for National Grid, discusses the ongoing importance of innovation and how the energy community needs to work together to maximise its phenomenal potential.

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Collaborate to innovate

Collaborate to innovate

For anybody working in network innovation, the LCNI (Low Carbon Networks and Innovation) Conference is a highlight in the calendar.

“The big challenge now is to ensure we turn as many of these game-changing concepts into reality.”

Richard Court, Head of RIIO Delivery for National Grid.


National Grid will be showcasing a range of exciting innovation projects at the LCNI Conference in Liverpool next week.

Source: National Grid.

Innovation has the power to solve some of the biggest problems facing the energy industry. That’s why, here at National Grid, it’s part of our culture to think creatively about how we can do things better across all of our businesses, and deliver innovations that bring real benefits to customers and communities.

For anybody working in network innovation, the LCNI (Low Carbon Networks and Innovation) Conference is a highlight in the calendar. It’s when all the networks get together to showcase their innovation projects funded under OFGEM’s innovation programme, the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) and the Network Innovation Competition (NIC). It’s about more than just showing off smart innovations. It’s an opportunity to share what we’ve learned across the networks, lay out the challenges we face and find new ways to collaborate.

As Head of RIIO Delivery for National Grid, driving innovation is an extremely important focus for me. For those of you who don’t know, our business is funded by a price control mechanism which is agreed and set by industry regulator OFGEM. The framework for this is called RIIO, which stands for Revenue = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs. The key point to take from the equation is that OFGEM offers network companies significant incentives to invest in and deliver innovation for the benefit of consumers.

Listening to our customers

But innovation needs direction. And we’ve been listening closely to our customers and stakeholders to frame the distinct challenges ahead and establish the best ways we can use innovation to meet them – and deliver the sort of results that our customers want.

The huge challenges we face are no secret. From hitting tough environmental targets, to replacing ageing assets, reducing disruption to our customers and making our network as economical and secure as possible, there are lots of areas that require innovative solutions.

Everything you’ll see on our stands at the LCNI Conference has the potential to make a significant difference to the challenges I’ve outlined. There’s Project GRAID, which is truly revolutionary. We’re developing, along with specialist partners, a robot that will inspect high-pressure gas installations and assess the asset’s condition without the need for complex excavations. It will bring huge benefits in terms of cost savings and reducing our environmental impact. TORS (Tier One Replacement System) is another tour de force in robotics, where devices will be sent into pipes to make service to mains connections, drastically reducing disruption to our communities. We’re also building innovative new models of how we’re going to operate the system into the future on our electricity side, so there’s lots to get excited about across a lot of areas.

Collaboration is critical

National Grid, nor any other network operator, can achieve great things alone. Collaboration is critical to ensure we collectively tackle these key issues and maximise the potential of innovation. And we work with external experts on all our innovation projects.

As an industry, it’s vital we continually set out the challenges we face, so that other innovators and supply chain companies understand what we’re working on and identify ways they can support us. We need to actively encourage this collaboration, so we’re working together and giving ourselves the best chance of getting great ideas all the way through to live operation, so the huge benefits can be felt by our customers and stakeholders.

It’s also important that we continually innovate into the future. The nature of our business means we have to make long-term investment decisions that will affect the energy landscape in 10, 20 or 30 years time. The world will change radically over those timescales, so it’s important we’re constantly innovating, so we can constantly challenge and improve the way we deliver our assets and services.

The coming year will be an interesting one in terms of RIIO and network innovation. It’s a key juncture, with the Government thinking about its future energy policy. That also makes it a key year for us to really get out there and inform policy makers, so they understand the potential role of electricity and gas into the future.

The big challenge now is to ensure we turn as many of these game-changing concepts into reality. To do this, we need to work together across networks and industries, sourcing innovation from as wide a pool as possible and collaborating to ensure we’re not wasting resources working on the same innovations. We can deliver bigger results by taking different parts of the innovation chain and learning from each other.

By joining up and collectively tackling these challenges, we’ll give ourselves the best chance of realising the full potential of our vast innovation capability and ultimately deliver the brightest future for energy consumers in the UK.


What to expect from National Grid at the LCNI Conference at ACC Liverpool on 24-26 November

Electricity Transmission

  • Among the exciting exhibits in Electricity Transmission will be investigative work into the use of drones, SF6 management and the world’s first successfully synthetic oil-filled transformer tested at 400kV. A team from the Control Training Unit (CTU) at Wokingham will also run a simulator exercise, giving people the opportunity to try their hand at running the electricity grid. They’ll also host a series of presentations and workshops along with an interactive session about energy forecasting.

Gas Transmission

  • Gas Transmission’s project showcase will include a renewable, powered telemetry kiosk, the NGage tablet app for standardising and visualising live results from meter validations, and a new 3D printed model of the Project GRAID robot. The team will also be giving presentations on topics such as connecting renewables to the gas grid and Project CLoCC (Customer Low Cost Connections), which will deliver a quicker, lower cost connection solution for National Transmission System customers.

Gas Distribution

  • Highlights from Gas Distribution will include progress on the robotic Tier One Replacement System (TORS) and Pipeline Replacement In Situ Manufacturing (PRISM). These projects contribute to Gas Distribution’s commitment to improve the customer experience by reducing excavations. Delegates will also have the opportunity to try out a new SENSIT device, an acoustic pipe locator that can detect the exact location of PE pipes.
Gas innovation in full flow