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Why the power of digital is key to energy innovation

We’re making digital transformation our top innovation priority this year as we progress towards a cleaner energy system. As we launch our refreshed innovation strategy for 2021/22, our head of innovation and digital transformation, Carolina Tortora, explains why.

When we launched our last innovation strategy, we were just three days into the first national lockdown. It was the start of a challenging journey for all of us, and one which had some unprecedented impacts on Britain’s electricity system.

The unique circumstances we saw – unusual demand patterns coupled with all-time high levels of renewable generation – underlined some of the challenges we face on our zero carbon journey.

They also highlighted what a pivotal role innovation has to play in meeting our ambitious targets.

All our priority innovation areas remain as important as ever – including future markets that are fit for net zero; reducing network congestion costs; and making sure we’re taking a whole system approach

Our innovation activities allow us to explore new technologies and approaches that will shape our future energy system – especially important as we embark on the first year of our new RIIO-2 regulatory period.

In our conversations and consultations with industry and stakeholders over the last year, one particular theme emerged as a shared priority in shaping that system: digital transformation.

Almost everything we do is driven by data and modelling. It underpins our operational activities, and heavily influences our other innovation priority areas. It’s key to capturing the benefits of our transition to zero carbon.

That’s why in our latest innovation strategy for 2021/22, which we publish today, we’ve made digital transformation our top priority.

Read our 2021/22 innovation strategy

Alongside those industry conversations, many of our flagship publications have influenced this strategy – including our Future Energy Scenarios (FES) and Bridging the Gap reports.

And they all tell us the same thing – that our stakeholders are relying on us to lead the way in digital.

The scale of the challenge, against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving energy sector, is significant – but we’re equal to the task.

This means harnessing data and digital technologies to enhance our operations, whether that’s accurately forecasting wind power or sending the right signals to the market – and consumers – to help balance the grid efficiently.

FES 2020 – How data and digitalisation will drive our journey to net zero

We’re no stranger to the power of digital. Artificial intelligence already supports our control room activities, and our forecasting capabilities are being boosted through machine learning.

We’re also making our data more transparent, enhancing the way market participants interact with us and each other and enabling them to make informed choices.

But we recognise that we need to step up our capabilities in this space, as well as facilitate the digital transformation of the wider energy industry with more open data and collaborative innovation.

We’ve published a separate digitalisation strategy and action plan which – in complement with our new innovation strategy – sets out how we’ll do that.

Read our digitalisation strategy

Collaboration, of course, is the only way we will properly exploit the opportunities in our priority areas. We remain keen to work with partners from industry, academia, or other sectors entirely, to tackle the challenges of a changing energy industry together.

And not just in the digital space. Other priority areas remain as important as ever in shaping our approach to innovation – including, among others, designing future markets that are fit for net zero; reducing congestion costs on our network; and making sure we’re taking a whole system approach to transformation.

We’re open for business and we want to hear from you

Our latest innovation strategy is our ‘call to arms’ across all sectors to encourage and invite ideas, conversation and collaboration in these areas – we’ll follow today’s strategy launch with an open call for ideas around our top priorities, with problem statements on each to be shared in due course.

We’re open for business and we want to hear from you. Get involved through our innovation web page.