UKPN floats potential of boat-to-grid flexibility

The feasibility of fitting electric charging infrastructure along the River Thames is being explored as part of a project that will seek to quantify the benefits of “boat-to-grid” flexibility.

UK Power Networks (UKPN) is partnering with LCP Delta and Marine Zero on the Electric Thames initiative, which it describes as a “radical new relationship” between vessel operators and London’s electricity network.

The project, which won £130,000 from Ofgem’s strategic innovation fund (SIF) last month, will assess the viability of using river vessels to store electricity which could be fed back into the grid when required. This would build on the established but currently under-utilised technology of vehicle-to-grid and look to international research into adapting this for boats.

It is currently in the scoping phase, surveying vessel and quay operators along the Thames, with the aim of producing a report at the end of May. This will gauge the appetite for boat-to-grid flexibility among river users, the likely impacts on the network and any regulatory barriers to success. The report would underpin any future stages of the project.

The project ties into wider efforts to decarbonise activity on the Thames, which supports a busy freight sector as well as 8 million passenger trips per year but is currently overwhelming reliant on fossil fuels.

Luca Grella, head of innovation at UKPN, said: “This is a first-of-its-kind project in the UK, and one that is operating at the forefront of energy innovation. Tapping into this potential will not only help us create a cleaner Thames for everyone but will also give us an additional supply of flexible, green energy which will help our transition to a decarbonised energy system.

“We’re thrilled to be leading the way in this space and are also looking forward to seeing how this approach could be scaled to other rivers across the country.”

While this initiative is the first to involve a UK energy network, there are similar studies being undertaken elsewhere, including one called Virtual Bunkering for Electric Vessels. This project, led by electric boat charging operator Aqua Superpower, aims to adapt bidirectional charging technology for boats. It won £260,000 from the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions in 2022.