Putting innovation at the heart of our drive towards a zero carbon future

As we launch our refreshed innovation strategy for 2020/21, Cian McLeavey-Reville reflects on the pivotal role innovation plays in ESO’s efforts to meet our 2025 zero carbon ambitions.

It’s been a recording-breaking twelve months for Great Britain’s electricity system. We saw the greenest ever January and February at the start of the year, we’ve had wind and solar generation records, and over 18 days of coal-free operations – the longest period of no coal being burnt for electricity in this country since the industrial revolution.

While weather is often a contributing factor in these headline stories, our work with industry and academia in recent years is undoubtedly laying the groundwork for these green records being set and broken. And at National Grid ESO we’re making sure we’re on the front foot to continue that progress and transform the electricity system for the twenty-first century (whatever the weather’s doing).

Innovation is central to that mission. Today we’re launching our refreshed innovation strategy for 2020/21, and our approach for the coming year is being shaped by the conversations we’re having with industry, and the trends we’ve seen emerging across the burgeoning portfolio of innovation projects that we’re funding.

Some key themes and targets remain as important as ever in shaping our strategy: improving coordination between ourselves and other network companies, as well as other sectors, to enhance planning and decision-making across the whole energy system; harnessing digital and data analytics to better understand our increasingly complex energy system; and exploring new and alternative technologies to manage system stability and support the transition to a zero carbon future.

We know that a lot of the most innovative and disruptive ideas to achieve these goals will come from thinking outside the box and working with external partners. That’s why we’ve been collaborating – and continue to collaborate – with industry, academia and other innovators to develop projects that address the challenges and priorities of the whole energy system.

Download our latest Innovation Strategy for 2020/21

I’m proud to reflect on the success and potential of many of these projects. Our top priority is to help deliver safe, secure and reliable operation of a zero carbon system by 2025, to which end we’re supporting the stability pathfinder initiative and its exciting developments around inertia services.

On forecasting supply and demand – another key innovation priority – we’ve been working with the University of Sheffield and the Alan Turing Institute on solar modelling and forecasting projects, and we’ve also joined forces with the Met Office to improve weather forecast accuracy.

Exploring markets for new products and services that can meet our changing system needs is also a focus of innovation activity. In December we debuted a new frequency response auction platform to improve our closer-to-real-time operations. And in a world-first initiative of its kind, ESO participated in Centrica’s Cornish Local Energy Market (LEM) – a boost to our balancing capabilities.

There are many more exciting projects in our innovation portfolio that you can read about in our strategy. You can also discover our priorities for the coming year, and how we’re planning to deliver against those in a way that will bring benefits to our partners and to the consumer.

We’re always looking for the next opportunity. That means we’re open for business, and we want to hear from industry colleagues, those in academia and other innovators with ideas for future projects we can fund to meet those innovation priorities.

While this is an exciting time for our energy system, we’re also mindful that since developing our strategy, we’re all faced with huge changes and challenges alike as a result of COVID-19. We’re constantly reviewing our plans – taking into account changing priorities for the ESO and our stakeholders – but we remain committed to fulfilling our role at the heart of Great Britain’s energy transformation.