Towards the end of last year the winners were revealed of Ofgem’s annual Network Innovation Competition (NIC).

As usual, £90 million was up for grabs – £70 million for electricity networks and £20 million for gas networks. Ofgem received five full submissions – one for gas and four for electricity – seeking a total of £57.9 million. It dismissed two further electricity submissions at the initial screening stage – Connection from Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks and Project Vision from SP Energy Networks

The regulator approved funding for all but one of the remaining projects, awarding £46.8 million to the winners and their partners. They in turn have committed to chip in another £35.9 million. The only project to be turned down was Revise from Western Power Distribution.

The Winners

HyDeploy2, Cadent

A few weeks before the winners were announced, Cadent received the green light from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) to begin blending hydrogen into the private gas network at Keele University. HyDeploy2 will build on the foundations of this earlier NIC trial by doing the same for public gas networks in the North East and North West of England.

Cadent has been awarded £13.3 million of funding and will spend another £1.5 million itself.

Both projects are seeking to demonstrate the safety of blending hydrogen into natural gas networks at volumes of up to 20 per cent. Current rules limit hydrogen blending to just 0.1 per cent. Cadent had to secure an exemption from the HSE for the Keele University trial and will need to again for HyDeploy2.

The scheme will involve two clusters of 700 households, carefully selected to include a range of property types and demographics. The injection phase of the trial will take place over a ten-month period covering both winter and summer.

Cadent will also develop a roadmap for wider deployment as part of the four-year project, starting in April 2019. The company estimates the adoption of hydrogen blending across the whole of Great Britain could reduce carbon emissions by 120 million tonnes by 2050 and says it would cost consumers £8 billion more to do the same using electric heat pumps.

The expert judging panel said the project is timely, well thought out and represents a significant step towards decarbonising heat. Ofgem agreed, saying the project will provide “a knowledge base for a decarbonisation option that will utilise an existing asset and if successful, will have minimal effects on consumers”.

Optimise Prime, UK Power Networks

The aim of Optimise Prime is to examine the potential impact of commercial electric vehicle (EV) charging on distribution networks and how it can be mitigated.

In its submission to Ofgem, UK Power Networks noted that there is still a relatively limited understanding of the likely charging models for commercial fleets, despite them accounting for roughly one in every five vehicles registered in the UK. It also noted that they are expected have a greater impact on demand than private vehicles due to their higher mileage and significant clustering, both in terms of location and time.

The scheme is very much a team effort, involving a total of six partners: UK Power Networks, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks, Hitachi, Royal Mail, Centrica, and Uber. It was initially proposed by Hitachi, which will provide the platform for collating data.

The project will include three separate trials.

For the first, Royal Mail will use vehicle mileage and other data to determine total daily charging requirements for an EV fleet depot. A behind-the-meter optimisation tool will also be created to help limit the size of required grid connections in future.

For the second, Centrica will develop and demonstrate flexibility services provided by commercial vans charging at workers’ homes.

And for the third, Uber will provide data about the on-route charging habits of its drivers and the effectiveness of variable pricing in reducing the demands placed on distribution networks.

In total more than 3,000 vehicles will be involved – at least 1,000 for each company – making it the largest such project in the UK to date.

UK Power Networks expects the project to create £200 million of financial benefits by 2030 and £485 million by 2050.

The firm has been awarded £16.4 million of NIC funding to undertake the project and will itself provide £1.85 million. The majority of the charging infrastructure costs will be borne by the other partners, which will collectively contribute a further £16.24 million.

Ofgem said the project has the potential to deliver “considerable” financial benefits, even if commercial EV uptake is relatively slow. The regulator also praised the diversity and scale of the participating fleets, which will allow the findings to be extrapolated to others.

The three-year scheme begins this month.

Charge, SP Energy Networks

This project will seek to help developers decide where to deploy EV charging infrastructure and network operators to anticipate increases in demand by combining data on road journeys, customer behaviour and network capacity.

This will include developing an interactive mapping tool called Connect More, which will be used to share the findings.

As part of the project, trials of destination and residential on-street charging will also be conducted to identify trends and the potential to use flexible connections. SP Energy Networks has committed to funding a car club to ensure the trials are populated sufficiently.

The company expects the project to create £135 million of financial benefits by 2030 and £795 million by 2050. It has been awarded £6.85 million of NIC funding and will contribute another £1.02 million. EA Technology, Smarter Grid Solutions and PTV Group will deliver the technical elements of the project and have agreed to invest £571,000.

Both the expert panel and Ofgem said they were encouraged by the focus on on-street residential parking, which has not been addressed by previous trials.

The project starts this month and will last around three years.

Black Start from Distributed Energy Resources, National Grid Electricity System Operator

As the name suggests, this scheme will investigate the ability of distributed energy resources to restore power following a major blackout.

Black start capability is currently provided by a small number of large transmission-connected fossil fuel power stations that are able to start up without access to external electricity supplies. However, closures have led to rising costs in recent years and will mean these plants can no longer be fully relied upon in future.

National Grid will therefore develop and demonstrate the organisational, commercial and technical arrangements to deliver the service using fleets of smaller assets connected at the distribution level, such as wind farms, hydropower plants and gas and diesel engines. It has committed to hold at least two live trials within SP Energy Networks’ licence areas.

The electricity system operator expects the provision of black start services by distributed energy resources to save £115 million by 2050. It has been awarded £10.27 million of NIC funding, to which it will add almost £880,000. The two other project partners – SP Energy Networks and TNEI – will contributed more than £412,00.

The project began last month and will end in April 2022.


What is the NIC?

As part of the RIIO-ED1, T1 and GD1 price controls, Ofgem introduced the Network Innovation Competitions (NIC) and the Network Innovation Allowance (NIA).
NICs are annual competitions for electricity and gas, where network companies compete for funding for research, development and trialling of new technologies, operating and commercial arrangements. Funding is provided for the best innovation projects, which help all network operators understand what they need to do to provide environmental benefits and security of supply at value for money as Great Britain moves to a low-carbon economy.
The NIA is a smaller allowance each RIIO network licensee receives to fund smaller scale innovative projects which have the potential to deliver benefits to network customers.

Objectives: The NIA and NIC aim to provide a financial catalyst for innovation on GB electricity and gas distribution and transmission networks as the country moves towards a low-carbon economy.

Source: Energy Networks Association

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