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Tackling future energy challenges through innovation

As we publish our latest innovation annual summary, our head of innovation strategy and digital transformation, Carolina Tortora, reflects on some of the projects that are helping us – and industry – achieve net zero.

Our recently refreshed innovation strategy for 2020/21 is founded on our drive towards a zero carbon future. When we shared it earlier this year, we were just three days into the covid-19 lockdown. The impact the resulting low demand has had on the electricity system underlines some of the challenges we face on our zero carbon journey – but also shows that we, and our industry partners, are readier than ever to tackle them. 

Not only is our innovation work keeping ESO at the cutting edge of industry developments; ultimately all energy consumers will benefit

Our innovation activities continue to play a key part in preparing us for future challenges. We’re making strong progress in our collaborative work with partners across the energy sector, which I’m pleased to be able to share today as we publish our latest Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) annual summary.

Read our latest NIA annual summary for 2019/20

Ofgem’s NIA supports innovation by electricity and gas network companies to research and develop novel solutions to emerging problems. Not only is our NIA-funded work keeping ESO at the cutting edge of industry developments; ultimately all energy consumers will benefit. 

The report follows collaboration with 27 partners, with updates and insight on the 35 innovation projects which are either underway, completed or being undertaken by ESO over the past 12 months. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on and share some of the success stories – many still ongoing – which are contributing to our journey towards zero carbon. 

Read on for some of the highlights in our portfolio of innovation projects and activities. 

  • Cornwall Local Energy Market (LEM) – this pioneering initiative saw us team up with Centrica and a distribution network operator (Western Power Distribution) to create a virtual marketplace where homes and businesses can store electricity or sell it back to the grid. It’s the first project of its kind anywhere in the world, and a great example of a smart, flexible and decentralised energy system in action. Read our news release and the coverage the project received in the Guardian.
  • Distributed ReStart – another world-first project for ESO and its partners, which is rethinking our electricity system’s most important back-up plan for a zero carbon future. Through Distributed ReStart we’re harnessing the rapid growth of distributed energy resources (DERs) – including renewables – to make it possible for them to deliver a black start service that isn’t reliant on fossil fuel generators. Read the latest on the project in our blog and in a recent article in Utility Week
  • Frequency response auction trial – as part of our role balancing the electricity system second-by-second and keeping its frequency stable, we need to ask energy providers and consumers to increase generation or demand quickly. So we’re working with EPEX SPOT to trial closer-to-real-time procurement of frequency response services. This is opening the market up to more players – including renewables – and will reduce costs through increased competition. Read a report on the trial’s launch in the Energyst. 

ESO’s innovation team also went out on the road during the last year, exhibiting at the Low Carbon Networks Innovation (LCNI) conference and hosting an open innovation event in Birmingham, which saw us take forward some fantastic ideas into funded projects. 

The covid-19 pandemic might have put the brakes on similar such events for the time being, but it hasn’t dampened our appetite to continue collaborating. We remain keen to work with partners from industry, academia, or other sectors entirely, to tackle the challenges of a changing energy industry together.