Posted: 4 August 2017
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Innovation in action

National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) has released its Innovation Annual Summary, shining a light on some of the great work that’s under way to transform the way we run Britain’s energy system. Iliana Portugues and Carolina Tortora, Heads of Innovation for Electricity Transmission Owner and GB System Operator respectively, explain more.

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Innovation in action

Innovation in action

Innovation is central to the work we do every day.

"Although technology is a crucial component of our innovation portfolio, the real driving force behind the work is people."

Iliana Portugues, Head of Innovation for Electricity Transmission Owner.


By 2050, the Power Potential project could result in savings for consumers of up to £412m.

Source: NGET Innovation Annual Summary.

The pace of change in the energy industry shows no sign of letting up. Within National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) we recognise that we have a crucial role to play in making sure Great Britain has a sustainable energy future. Innovation is at the forefront of that challenge.

Iliana Portugues, Head of Innovation for Electricity Transmission Owner.

The significance of innovation is underlined by the way National Grid is funded. The industry regulator Ofgem introduced the RIIO-T1 price control framework in 2013.

RIIO stands for Revenues = Incentives + Innovation + Outputs and as part of that, Ofgem introduced two new funding mechanisms for network innovation: the Network innovation Allowance (NIA) and the Network Innovation Competition (NIC).  Both of these funds enable us to take forward ground-breaking new ideas and technologies that will make a tangible difference to customers and communities.

NIA and NIC tell only part of the innovation story within National Grid, of course. Innovation is central to the work we do every day to keep the energy flowing to homes and businesses across Great Britain and to improve the service we provide to customers and end consumers.

Themes for innovation

Our NIA innovation projects span the Electricity System Operator (ESO) and Electricity Transmission Owner (ETO) parts of our business. This year, for example, we have invested the £6.7 million NIA allowance in 116 projects covering a wide range of network asset and system operation challenges and opportunities.

Where we’re investing for the future

At our Sellindge substation, we have trialled a novel alternative to SF6 from GE Grid Solutions: g3 (Green Gas for Grid). g3 is a new gas mixture that delivers the same technical benefits as SF6 while reducing the global warming potential ratio from 23,900 to 345, an amazing 98% improvement.

We have successfully installed and pressurised g3 on two new gas-insulated busbar sections. The equipment has passed its high-voltage test on site and was energised successfully in April 2017. We’re the first transmission grid in the world to be using g3 on a 400kV network.

Creating a testbed for technologies

Carolina Tortora, Head of Innovation for GB System Operator.

Elsewhere, the development of an innovation center at Deeside will soon be helping us speed up the implementation of new ideas and technologies onto the network.

By mirroring a live substation but working off-grid, we can test assets in real life conditions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The quicker we can put these technologies into action, the faster we can pass on the savings they generate to consumers.

One of the biggest challenges when introducing novel technologies is making sure this can be done safely and without interrupting the day-to-day running of the network. We won £12m of Ofgem funding in 2015 and we’re investing another £14m in the Deeside project. The facility is expected to break even in terms of costs to consumers by 2021.

New opportunities from and for distributed generation

The GB energy landscape continues to change, particularly with the growth of renewable generation. Our portfolio of projects seeks to address these changes and to anticipate the challenges that lie ahead.

The Power Potential project, formerly known as Transmission Distribution Interface 2.0, is an example of how we’re seeking to harness distributed energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels in a new way.

Together with UK Power Networks (UKPN) we’re using £9.5m of Ofgem innovation funding to explore whether sources of generation connected to the distribution network can be used to provide services such as dynamic voltage control. By 2050, the project could result in savings for consumers of up to £412m.

Improving solar forecasting

As the amount of solar generation on the network increases, we’re also working on a series of projects to help realise the full potential of solar photovoltaic (PV). These projects include collaboration with the Met Office to improve the accuracy of solar forecasts we receive.

There’s also a second piece of work with the University of Reading to assess the probability of different weather scenarios and what they might mean for solar PV and wind generation. Meanwhile, the Sheffield Solar project focuses on solar monitoring and is developing a live data feed of national and regional solar generation.

Why does this work matter to consumers? Well, having a much clearer picture of the amount of solar power generation means we can match supply to demand more efficiently. Holding too much generation in reserve costs consumers money.

Collaboration is vital

Although technology is a crucial component of our innovation portfolio, the real driving force behind the work is people, and the projects draw on the expertise of colleagues from right across our business. We also reach out beyond National Grid and in the past year we’ve worked with 55 different suppliers and partners, including universities, distribution network operators (DNOs), equipment manufacturers, tech companies and many others.

What lies ahead

This is just a taste of the projects we’ve been working on over the past 12 months. You can read more in our full Innovation Annual Summary. Each project is aimed at delivering measurable benefits and to ensure that we have an electricity network that is fit for tomorrow’s challenges as well as those of today.

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to work on the projects that are already under way in close co-operation with our external partners. Later this year, with the support of the Energy Networks Association (ENA), we and the other GB electricity networks will prepare an electricity networks innovation strategy.

The draft strategy will be available for consultation by the end of November 2017 and we’re keen to hear as many different viewpoints as possible to make sure this document covers all aspects of the system.

Find out more about our pioneering innovation work by downloading the NGET Innovation Annual Summary.

A standout year

On the gas side of the business, we’ve also been investing in an array of innovation projects within National Grid Gas Transmission (NGGT) and the story of these projects is contained in this year’s NGGT Innovation Annual Summary.

Over the past four years NGGT has built a portfolio of more than 100 projects, investing over £10m. Highlights from the past year have included the GRAID robot (Gas Robotic Agile Inspection Device). The technology will transform the way that we manage buried assets at high-pressure gas installations.

We’re also making good progress with Project CLoCC (Customer Low Cost Connections) which aims to make it faster and cheaper for a new generation of gas customers to connect to the National Transmission System. We’ve developed concepts for new connection options and also a practical online tool that allows customers to assess quickly which connection option is best for them.

For more about these and other successes, you can access the NGGT Innovation Annual Summary here

Gas innovation in full flow