£30m Gateshead research facility to test zero-carbon integrated energy solutions

Ambitions for a zero-carbon energy network are a step closer to reality, after Northern Gas Networks (NGN) launched the UK's first fully-integrated research and development facility to test low-carbon business solutions for transport, electricity, and gas.

NGN launched the Integrate Transport Electricity Gas Research Laboratory (InTEGReL) on Monday (11 September). Located in Gateshead, the site will be operated in collaboration with the Northern Powergird and Newcastle University and will act as an incubator for academics and engineers to test new solutions to decarbonise the UK’s heat, energy and transport sectors.

Commenting on the opening, the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) secretary of state Greg Clark said: “I welcome today’s launch of InTEGReL, the UK’s first integrated energy systems R&D facility. As part of our Industrial Strategy this Government is working closely with partners in the energy sector to position the UK at the forefront of global efforts to develop carbon-free energy solutions.

“The InTEGReL project demonstrates how the private sector – working with the UK’s world class Higher Education sector – can take a leading role in helping Britain reach our 2050 emission reduction target. This Government is committed to supporting low carbon energy solutions in the UK, and our recent £246m investment in battery technology and £25m in the development of hydrogen gas technology have been central to this.”

When fully completed the site will host battery storage systems and a research lab for domestic appliances and smart homes and system demonstrations. As mentioned, hydrogen and CNG refuelling stations will also be constructed on the site.

The EPSRC National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) will act as a partner for the site, and the principle aim is to develop new solutions that help consumers decarbonise their utilities and homes, although businesses will be encouraged to work with the facility.

‘Economically viable’

The centre will also be at the forefront of hydrogen exploration and builds on NGN’s H21 City Gate project, a research study in Leeds which found that substituting natural gas with hydrogen in UK networks would be “technically possible and economically viable”.

NGN’s chief executive Mark Horsley added: “We are delighted to open InTEGReL which we see as another step forward in our work towards a zero-carbon energy future. The site will bring together the best and brightest in this field and encourage the big thinking that is required if we are to secure, affordable, low carbon energy future.

“At Northern Gas Networks, we have been working on our energy future project for a number of years, and this is a big breakthrough. Fully integrated energy systems that combine electricity, gas, and renewables to power heating, lighting and transport, can help to reduce the use of primary energy, cut costs and increase the reliability of our energy networks. It really is an issue of national importance and one which we take very seriously.”

The Energy Networks Association estimates that £80bn of private investment will be funnelled into the UK’s energy market by 2020. That is alongside the £28m commitment from the Government to reduce industrial energy costs and decarbonise the UK economy.

Businesses, especially SMEs, can thrive in a low-carbon economy if they follow the mantra of ‘reduce, generate and store’ as a way to revamp energy costs and tap into the potential of new energy trends that InTEGReL will be trialling.

Matt Mace

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