Innovating for today and tomorrow

Posted on: 13/08/2021

I’m proud to introduce our 2020-21 Innovation Report. Our final report on our innovation work in GD1, it not only showcases our exciting projects from the last 12 months, but also looks back at our delivery since 2013.

In the last eight years, we’ve started 417 innovation projects, 109 were funded using the Network Innovation Allowance. These have delivered more than £15m of benefits. From mains cutters, which help our engineers upgrade gas pipes in a way that keeps disruption and time off gas to a minimum and are now standard tools across the sector, to the Freedom Project, the first test of hybrid heating systems in customers’ homes, our projects have been industry leading.

In 2020-21, we’ve continued to prepare for the future through research projects and trials in real customers’ homes. We’ve renewed our focus on hydrogen, working with partners in industry and government on projects including the development of an Industrial Cluster in south Wales. And looking to the future, we’ve begun work on identifying villages in our network that could become a pioneering Hydrogen Village, meeting the government’s aspirations as set out in the 10 Point Plan.

And we’ve continued to work on hybrids, building on feedback received from customers as part of the Freedom Project. We’re leading HyCompact, which combines a green gas boiler and an air source heat pump into a single, compact hybrid system that can fit in the space of a gas boiler. Customer feedback has been positive, with seven in 10 welcoming the prospect of hybrid heating, while reminding us that comfort and reliability are their ‘must haves’.

Feedback of this kind will help inform our customer-focused net zero strategy going forward. Recognising the importance of the gas network in a future whole energy system, we’ve also taken part in projects to better forecast flexible generation gas demand, supporting renewable energy and helping to keep the lights on.

But it’s not just net zero that’s benefiting from innovation. Innovation is helping our engineers manage and maintain the gas network more effectively and efficiently: new ways of repairing high-pressure pipelines will help us avoid costly network interventions and keep costs and disruption to customers to a minimum.

Learnings from these projects are being shared with other networks – not least through Gas Goes Green – which is helping marshal the efforts of the UK’s gas networks to decarbonise home heating.

As we move into GD2 we remain focused on innovation. Our Business Plan for 2021-2026 is our most ambitious plan ever, built on the views of more than 25,000 people across Wales and south west England. They told us to focus on preparing for the future and supporting the most vulnerable, so our innovation activity will be aligned to those aims: transforming our network to deliver net zero and identifying new ways to identify and support the most vulnerable, including StreetScore, making sure streetworks are as safe as they can be.

It is an understatement to say that the world has changed considerably. In the energy sector, we have a challenging transition to net zero to navigate, while all of us have been affected by the once-in-a-generation Coronavirus pandemic. From digitalisation and new technologies, to new vaccines and treatments, innovation is driving the response to these challenges, and its power and importance has never been clearer.

I hope you find this report of interest, and as always – at a critical point for the energy sector – if you want to talk about working with us, get in touch: innovation@wwutilities.co.uk.

Author profile

Graham Edwards

Wales & West Utilities CEO