National Grid Electricity Distribution President, Cordi O’Hara OBE FEI, visited the University of Bath in January 2024 to meet with Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Ian White DL FREng and the team of researchers leading the charge towards a net zero future.

The work of teams led by Professor Furong Li from the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Power Distribution, is helping the energy industry prepare and adapt to a low-carbon world by developing new technical, digital and commercial solutions.

The team is strengthened by recent appointments of two Professors in Practice – Professor Nigel Turvey, the former DSO and Future Networks Manager of National Grid Electricity Distribution, and Professor Lewis Dale, the former Regulatory Strategy Manager of National Grid Electricity Transmission.

They bring more than 70 years of industrial experience in network strategy, power markets and energy system digitalisation.

For more than two decades, Professor Li has collaborated with Western Power Distribution (WPD), now National Grid Electricity Distribution (NGED) around network investment, network pricing, and network digitalisation.

Alongside NGED, her team developed a method for predicting energy usage patterns from just a small proportion of the network, rather than monitoring every distribution substation in the UK, which would cost over £2 billion.

This research is vital in understanding how electricity networks can best cater not just for power, but also heat and transport, alongside managing an influx of new (and variable) renewable energy inputs going forward.

Professor Li said: “NGED has the challenging task of connecting an unprecedented volume of low carbon technologies to decarbonise electricity by 2035, open the decarbonisation path to other sectors, such as transport, industry and heat and helping to reconcile the energy trilemma.

“We are keen to work with NGED colleagues and stakeholders to navigate the extraordinarily complex and fast-moving energy landscape, supporting NGED to deliver reliable energy at best value to energy customers in the face of deep uncertainty, more frequent extreme weather events and growing digital risks.”

The visit was also an opportunity to discuss the priorities and challenges for the UK’s largest electricity distribution network, which serves more than eight million customers across the East and West Midlands, South West and South Wales, and explore opportunities to collaborate in research, people and skills, and EDI.

As President, Cordi O’Hara is responsible for National Grid’s £7 billion investment programme that will be delivered between 2023-28, keeping clean, secure and affordable power flowing to homes and businesses across our region.

Ms O’Hara said: “At National Grid we’re focused on building the electricity network and systems of the future. To do this, we know that we need to continue our collaboration with research and academic leaders, like Professor Li and the University of Bath.

“With a 900% increase in connections over the last five years, innovation and digitisation will be critical to help us achieve net zero, as is the need to inspire and develop a diverse and skilled workforce of the future.”

Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Bath, Professor Ian White DL FREng, added: “The visit provided an excellent opportunity to showcase the University’s comprehensive capabilities, skills and ambition in transitioning electrical energy systems and our whole-system vision.

“There are clear alignments in data and digitalisation, whole system modelling, and their potential to support NGED to navigate the complex and uncertain energy landscape to effectively upgrade the extensive legacy networks, introduce flexibility, modularity and optionality to supply affordable, resilient and clean energy.”