Ofgem gives go ahead to six innovative network projects

Six new projects have been allowed funding through Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition (NIC), including testing how ‘greener’ gas can be used on a university’s gas grid in Staffordshire, and examining how advanced software can help make more efficient use of locally-connected solar power.

The Network Innovation Competition allows energy companies to spend some extra income on projects that are higher risk than normal. Network businesses compete for funding each year to carry out trials. They recoup the spending as part of the network charges all customers pay. Expert panels evaluated the competition submissions and made a recommendation to Ofgem on which projects should receive funding. The NIC is the successor to the Low Carbon Networks Fund.

In this year’s competition Ofgem has agreed funding of £44.6 million for six of the eight projects that entered (four for electricity and two for gas).

The winning projects involve:

·         Examining what role hydrogen can play in gas networks by testing the use of natural gas blended with 10% to 20% hydrogen on Keele University’s gas network which supplies its campus and student accommodation buildings. The higher hydrogen content means the gas is less polluting. (From National Grid Gas Distribution.)

·         Using cloud-based software to allow local communities to make more efficient use of locally-connected renewable energy. (From Western Power Distribution.)

·         Using new types of circuit breakers to ease faults on the network which could help smaller generators connect in areas such as London. (From UK Power Networks.)

·         Testing whether small scale distribution-connected generators can provide services to the national network, such as voltage stability, that are traditionally offered by larger generators. The project will also test how distribution network operators and National Grid can work more closely on managing grids, which is an important part of building a more flexible energy system. (From National Grid Electricity Transmission.)

·         Trialling new equipment which will regulate frequency and voltage on the grid in response to variable output from wind farms. This will help squeeze more capacity out of the grid as this technology makes it easier for these generators to connect. (From Scottish Power Transmission.)

·         Developing a new billing system to adapt to the next generation of gas sources on the networks. It will take into account that ‘greener’ gas such as biomethane produce different levels of energy compared with North Sea gas. (From National Grid Gas Distribution.)

Some have described the National Grid Gas billing project  as “business as usual” and asked why it should be funded. Ofgem commented: “While we have awarded this project funding, it is subject to National Grid Gas Distribution (NGGD) accepting an additional condition that we have imposed to ensure it delivers good value to gas customers.” The regulator noted that NGGD – which is currently for sale – may choose not to progress this project on these terms.

Jonathan Brearley, Senior Partner, Networks, Ofgem, said: “Britain’s networks will play a crucial role as we head towards a smarter energy system. This year’s trials will test a variety of new technologies and arrangements. If they are successful they will provide networks with valuable learning that may be incorporated into their everyday working practices, providing financial and environmental benefits to consumers.

“We want network companies to work closely with non-network organisations so that more ideas can be developed through collaboration. I’m pleased that some of this year’s projects are doing that and look forward to seeing more collaborative projects coming forward next year.”

Read more: 2016 Network Innovation Competitions Brochure

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