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Rural energy and roadworks projects win innovation funding

Helping rural communities decarbonise quicker is the aim of a new innovation project we will be running after being awarded Ofgem funding.

The Strategic Innovation Fund money will help us initially understand the priorities of community energy groups and also develop practical solutions so they can access low carbon technologies more quickly than alternative means.

The Rural Energy and Community Heat (REACH) project has won nearly £117,000 from the energy regulator to work with innovative suppliers to develop shipping container-sized rural energy centres. These prefabricated units will contain standardised equipment that can be easily sited within communities to enable the connection of heat pumps, electric vehicle chargers and renewable generation.

National Grid Electricity Distribution’s Laurence Hunter, Innovation Engineer for REACH, said: “The advantage of a modular rural energy centre is it can offer communities shared low-carbon heating, rapid EV charging and renewable generation in an area where otherwise they might have to wait for the network to be upgraded or where commercial markets may not serve customers.

“The modular approach has been used to charge electric vehicles and this funding will enable us to see if we can extend this concept and provide extra functionality.

“REACH will work closely with community energy groups and others to evaluate the feasibility of this novel way to help customers make cost-effective decarbonisation plans coordinated with wider development plans.”

This project is funded by network users and consumers under the Strategic Innovation Fund, an Ofgem programme managed in partnership with UKRI. The fund has also awarded us £141,000 for our Road to Power project.

This will examine how electricity networks can support the street and roadworks sector’s move to electric plant machinery and net zero emissions. National Highways have set an ambitious 2030 target for zero emission plant equipment on all work sites.

Greater electrification of plant machinery will pose challenges to the electricity network due to its high and inflexible charging demands at regularly changing locations. However, there is still some uncertainty as to how decarbonisation will play out with electrification of some equipment expected to be complemented by the use of hydrogen by other plant. Road to Power aims to understand the drivers and to create realistic scenarios for planning.

The project will assess these demands, forecast future consumption and explore different electrification pathways and infrastructure needs.

It will then create online tools to help roadworks contractors obtain temporary grid connections while helping networks forecast the impact of temporary works on their infrastructure.

Jenny Woodruff, National Grid Electricity Distribution’s Innovation Manager for the Midlands, said: “As well as empowering informed decision-making and ensuring a reliable energy supply for customers, the tools will support the sector’s transition to net zero emissions while maintaining efficient network operation and planning.”