An innovative new approach to bringing energy network needs to the market place has paid off for the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC) as the networks continue to embrace new ways of working.
Over the last 12 months, the EIC has been actively inviting innovators to share their solutions to unique problems faced by the UK’s gas and electricity distribution networks. Since the ‘calls for innovation’ process began, the EIC has engaged with over 150 innovators to discover new ways for the networks to work more efficiently, safely, cost effectively and ultimately delivering a better service to energy customers.
One of the successful projects to emerge from this process is with the Industrial Noise and Vibration Centre (INVC) which is now working with Northern Gas Networks (NGN). NGN was seeking ways to reduce the noise created when digging to access its underground pipe network, especially in busy, built up areas.
INVC’s expertise in working with noisy plant machinery meant that it was able to develop an acoustic screen which reduced the expected noise levels by 97-99 per cent. Through collaborating with INVC, NGN was able to resume a crucial project that had been put on hold due to noise concerns.
Managing director of the EIC, Denise Massey, said: “Engaging with large organisations, such as the energy networks, can be challenging for SME innovators who very often lack the time and resource to go through lengthy procurement processes. Likewise, it can be just as difficult for big companies to know how to connect with the right small businesses”.
“The calls for innovation process shines a light on specific problems faced by the networks and has the potential to accelerate the adoption of novel technologies from innovators and new market entrants into business as usual.”
The project between INVC and NGN is a perfect example of the success that can come from the process. The acoustic screens have now been deployed by NGN, all within two months of NGN identifying the problem.
Other success stories from the process come from SP Energy Networks (SPEN) and SSE Power Distribution. The networks were jointly looking for a specialist coating that could be used on electricity pylons to reduce corrosion and extend the timescales between recoating by up to 25 years. The networks are now trialling products with a number of suppliers. Over the past couple of weeks, and following another EIC call, SPEN entered into an agreement to trial several new non-intrusive testing techniques to evaluate the condition of existing tower foundations. One of these techniques involves the use of a ground penetrating radar.
Wales and West Utilities (WWU) is also involved in a collaborative project with NGN. Leaking gas valves need to be replaced and when this happens, if the gas meter is semi-concealed underground, it can be a lengthy and costly process to fix. It can result in engineers digging on customers’ property to access the service pipe so the gas supply can be turned off while the valve is exchanged which can last for several hours. NGN and WWU were looking for a simpler solution that will allow for a simple above ground isolation of the gas flow slightly upstream of the valve without the need to excavate and reinstate. The networks are now trialling a new technique with a company sourced through the EIC calls for innovation process.
“We are focussed on two main things: delivering innovation at pace and value to energy customers,” adds Denise. “Through this innovation calls process, we have seen the real impact that working together can have on the networks, the SMEs and the energy customer. Together we all play a part in driving change in the industry in order to positively impact our energy future.”