£90m energy innovation competition kicked off by energy network companies

Up to £90m of investment is up for grabs for Britain’s leading energy innovators this week, as energy network companies launch the Call for Ideas for the Network Innovation Competition (NIC).

The Call, which is for companies interested in working with Britain’s gas and electricity network operators to develop bids for the funding, is being run by Energy Networks Association (ENA). ENA represents the companies responsible for operating the ‘wires and pipes’ of Britain’s energy network infrastructure. Successful applicants will work with network companies to compete for up to £20 million of funding available for gas network projects and up to £70 million available for electricity network projects. Cross-vector projects can potentially access funding from both pots.

Research from the National Infrastructure Commission has identified up to £8bn of savings a year that can be made from energy networks investing in innovative smart power technologies. KPMG research also shows that using new innovation projects to evolve both our gas and electricity networks to help decarbonise our economy could save consumers as much as £214bn by 2050 compared to a full or near-full electrification scenario.

The annual Competition is designed to support a range of large scale energy innovation projects in communities across the country. Run by Ofgem, network companies and their partners will compete for funding for the development and demonstration of new energy technologies that will help run energy network infrastructure in a smarter, cleaner and more flexible way. Recent examples include the OpenLV project, which enables open access to local network electricity demand data, and the H21 project, a nationwide project which aims to build an evidence-base on the conversion of gas distribution networks to transport low-carbon hydrogen.

Proposals must provide a clear cost benefit to the public, cost benefits to the running of the networks, environmental benefits and demonstrate genuine innovation. They will need to fit with the priority areas, set out in the Gas and Electricity Network Innovation Strategies or one of the possible cross-sector areas, such as whole system planning.

Potential applicants can also find out more information about existing innovation projects and meet network operators to discuss potential projects at this year’s Low Carbon Network Innovation (LCNI) Conference, the UK’s largest smart grid conference, which takes place in Glasgow on 30-31 October.

David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association says:

“We need to be relentless in our focus on innovation to deliver Net Zero and reap the benefits that it can provide. Private enterprise is key to delivering network innovation which is vital to help keep energy bills down for the public, while delivering a smarter, cleaner and more flexible energy system that serves the country. This is an exciting chance for innovators to deliver projects that will make a real difference to the way networks operate in communities up and down the country. We want to hear from the widest range of energy innovators as possible to help deliver that.”

The call for ideas opens on 16 September and closes on 8 November at 5pm. Full details of the Call can be found on Energy Networks Association’s Network Innovation Collaboration Portal.

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Notes to editors

  • Energy Networks Association (ENA) represents the companies that operate and maintain the gas and electricity grid network in the UK and Ireland.
  • Serving over 30 million customers, they are responsible for the transmission and distribution network of “wires and pipes” that keep our lights on, our homes warm and our businesses running.
  • Since 2004, over 1,300 innovation projects have been delivered across both gas and electricity networks, allowing network operators to better understand how to integrate new energy technologies such as electric vehicles, renewable distributed generation and decarbonised sources of gas into our energy system.
  • Innovation is a key element of the existing RIIO price control mechanism. One of the principal processes to encourage innovation in the energy industry is through an annual competition for funding known as the Network Innovation Competition (NIC), which is provided to Networks by Ofgem.
  • The NIC is an annual opportunity for gas and electricity network companies to compete for funding for the development and demonstration of new technologies and new operating and commercial arrangements.
    • It is typically applicable to large-scale projects and funding will be provided for the best innovation projects which help the network operators understand what they need to do to facilitate innovation as we move to a low carbon economy.
  • Before submitting an idea innovators should ensure it meets the Gas and/or Electricity NIC Governance Documents.
  • The Call can be found on ENA’s Network Innovation Collaboration Portal which includes links the Google Form for submission of proposals.
  • KPMG research conducted on behalf of ENA has shown that a scenario based on evolving both our gas and electricity networks to help decarbonise our economy could save consumers as much as £214bn by 2050 compared to a full or near-full electrification scenario. A copy of the report can be found online here.
    • For projects that work with both the gas and electricity networks and gas, the allocation of funding will depend on the expected benefits of the project.
    • The networks are interested in ideas which relate to the areas identified in the Gas and Electricity Network Innovation Strategies as well as the following Whole Energy System areas:

-       Planning and Forecasting

-       Pricing and Settlement 

-       Network Resilience

-       Communications and Data Management

-       Decarbonisation of Heat

-       Energy Flexibility

-       Community Energy

-       Customers in Vulnerable Situations

-       Tickets for the LCNI Conference can be bought here.

  • More information on the OpenLV project can be found online here
  • More information on the H21 project can be found online here.

The National Infrastructure Commission Smart Power report was published in March 2016 and can be found online here.