Gas and electricity networks are adopting innovations from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) into business as usual but there is still work to be done. This is one of the conclusions from the Energy Innovation Centre’s (EIC) and the Energy Systems Catapult’s latest research findings, launched today at Utility Week Live.
Backed by the EIC’s network partners, the two organisations undertook a study earlier this year to understand the relationships between key players in the industry and how they work together with SMEs to advance innovation in the energy sector.
The #CollectiveFuture Insights paper shines the spotlight on relationships between the networks and SMEs from EIC’s global innovator community, and identifies blockers and barriers to innovation adoption.
Philip New, Chief Executive at the Energy Systems Catapult said: “Innovation is fundamental to energy system transformation. Leveraging the potential of innovative SMEs is vital if we’re to access the full capacity of UK talent and drive productivity improvements. This involves overcoming some serious challenges. We need focussed interventions based on a clear understanding of the landscape. Our aim is to help remove roadblocks and smooth the path for the strongest innovations to break through.”
Over 150 SMEs came forward to share their experiences of engaging with some of the UK’s gas and electricity distribution networks in the research, which was conducted by independent research company, Renuma. EIC’s network partners – UK Power Networks, Scottish & Southern Energy Networks, SP Energy Networks, Northern Powergrid, Northern Gas Networks, Wales & West Utilities and Cadent – were also asked to give their experiences of working with third party innovators as part of the study.
The survey showed that, overall, 80% of SMEs had engaged with at least one distribution network operator (DNO) or gas distribution network (GDN). And whilst the larger SMEs (more than 100 employers) are more likely to be engaged, SMEs of all sizes are collaborating successfully with networks across sectors. The research also highlighted that initial engagement is likely to lead to collaboration and network innovation funding is critical to SMEs engaging with this sector.
Other insights outlined in the study include ten areas for improvement that SMEs believe would impact relationships positively and help to accelerate adoption of innovation into business as usual, creating more opportunities for UK companies and strengthening the supply chain.
Denise Massey, Managing Director, Energy Innovation Centre, said: “Whilst networks are adopting SME innovations into business as usual, it is clear from the findings that there is still work to be done. The study is the first step in an action plan to create stronger relationships between third party SMEs with innovative ideas and technologies, and the energy networks that benefit from them.
“Our intention is that these insights will help us to reach a point where collaboration can thrive and barriers to adoption are removed so that we start to see a greater number of SME innovations breaking through at a much quicker pace.”
Paul Jordan, Head of Business Development at Energy Systems Catapult said: “The study has gathered invaluable insight and engagement, and we are now in a fantastic position to be able to move forward and build upon these foundations. We haven’t got all the answers yet but we can now start to address and further investigate these challenges. Ultimately, by understanding the needs of SMEs we can improve the innovation process and help them access the tools, partners and information needed to successfully commercialise innovation.”