The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has highlighted four influential pilot projects. Two of note are the ReFLEX Orkney project and Project Leo in Oxfordshire.
ReFLEX Orkney is termed a virtual energy system. It interlinks electricity, heat networks, and transport into adaptive energy infrastructure. It is a smart grid implementation. Orkney has been suitable for the ReFLEX project, with historically high renewable energy penetration. However, Orkney is regularly forced to curtail its renewables when supply and demand are mismatched. The smart grid will comprise hundreds of grid batteries at domestic and larger scales, vehicleto-grid charging infrastructure (Orkney has four times the national average electric vehicles per capita), and flexible heating systems. The project is led by the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), involving Heriott-Watt University, and funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). UKRI brings together and funds industrial research groups like the EMEC and higher education institutions. It consolidates seven UK research councils and the Higher Education Funding Council, which are dissolved.
Project Leo (Local Energy Oxfordshire) is another smart grid initiative led by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSE). With a significant focus on community engagement, it aims to establish a local energy marketplace for energy transactions. This concept of a smart grid incorporates socio-economic benefits promised by decentralised generation. Alongside greater energy efficiency and reduced emissions, individuals play active roles in energy systems and access new income. Project Leo is led by a distribution network operator (DNO) acting as a distribution system operator (DSO). The paradigm shift from DNOs to DSOs is an important transition anticipated in energy systems through till 2030. It will challenge incumbents (DNOs) to either evolve or face obsolescence. Project Leo is also significantly privately financed, contrasting with the largely public-led ReFLEX project.
These projects are a sample of innovation in the UK’s energy system. They highlight that innovation comes from diverse actors in collaboration. Participation of the private and public sector is made possible through funding by institutions like UKRI.