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Future Innovation Projects

At NIE Networks, we are currently preparing our Innovation Strategy for the next Regulatory Period RP7, commencing in April 2024. Continual innovation is essential in ensuring we deliver a safe, reliable and resilient network for our customers while cost-effectively facilitating Low Carbon Technologies (LCTs) and renewables. With growing reliance on electricity for heat and transport, our customers will be increasingly dependent on the services we provide and innovation is key in preparing for the decarbonisation of the energy sector.

We issued a Call for Ideas which closed on 14 January 2022, inviting feedback on what our future innovation projects should look like, focussing on a number of key themes:

  • Network Monitoring and Data
  • Connections, Network Capacity, Distributed Energy Resources and Low Carbon Technologies
  • Customer Participation and Demand-Side Response
  • Customer Satisfaction and Bills Reduction
  • Whole System Integration

Our current RP6 innovation programme is delivering important learnings as we trial and adopt new technologies, systems and processes and our aim is to build on this existing portfolio into the next regulatory period. We will explore a wider range of Technology Readiness Levels (TRL), and broaden the scope of our innovation activities beyond the distribution network, to include whole system optimisation.

Innovation project ideas submitted to NIE Networks could involve new smart technologies, or may focus on market-based solutions (building on our FLEX project), proposals to improve company processes and policies (like our Facilitation of Energy Storage Systems (FESS) project), solutions that help us collate, manage and analyse digital network data more efficiently, and any other proposals you may have which can help improve our network in a way which is cost efficient for our customers.

At NIE Networks, we want to hear ideas from a wide variety of sources; including our customers and their representative groups, academia, vendors, other industries and any other stakeholders. Our Innovation team will use your ideas to shape our Innovation Strategy and projects proposed during the RP7 period, and we may contact you to discuss proposals in more detail if necessary, although you can submit ideas anonymously if you wish.

Throughout all of NIE Networks’ innovation projects, a number of core principles and objectives exist, driven by our vision of “Delivering a sustainable energy system for all” and our values of being safety, people, customer, commercially, and future focussed.

As we innovate, we will ensure we consider:

  • Safety of our customers, staff and communities
  • Maximising benefits and value for our customers including vulnerable customers
  • Decarbonisation and environmental sustainability
  • Network resilience
  • Whole energy system requirements
  • Resources, skills and capabilities
  • Scalability of solutions
  • Stakeholder collaboration
  • Government policy
  • Cost effective accommodation of large volumes of renewables & LCTs
  • Distribution System Operator transition
  • Data and Digitalisation
  • Provision of a smart, flexible network

These key objectives will drive and shape the application of innovation in NIE Networks going forward.

For additional guidance or information, please feel free to contact us at

Facilitating Low Carbon Technologies

In our RP6 Business Plan we requested, for the first time, an allowance to manage the uptake of Low Carbon Technologies (LCTs) on our network. The Utility Regulator approved this innovation funding. To facilitate this, we used EA Technology’s Transform Model to forecast the likely uptake of LCTs and output the required expenditure to manage the network impact. The Transform Model identified two potential investment strategies that can be deployed “ Business as Usual (BaU)” or a “smart incremental” strategy.

  • A BaU strategy uses conventional solutions only to reinforce the network (e.g. bigger transformer or thicker cables or overhead lines).
  • A smart incremental strategy uses either conventional solutions, smart technologies or customer based solutions (e.g. demand side management) to manage the network impact, depending on which offers the best overall solution for our customers on a case by case basis.

The Transform Model outputted that there would be significant financial benefit to customers by adopting a smart incremental strategy when compared to a BaU strategy. However, before beginning to avail of these benefits we need to have suitably trialled smart and customer based solutions on our network.

Developing Innovative Solutions

Over the past decade there has been a plethora of innovation projects undertaken by GB DNOs facilitated through various regulatory mechanisms. We are well placed to leverage the learning from these activities to the betterment of NI customers, however, it should be noted that these significant strides forward in GB are not directly transferrable and require tailoring to integrate smart and customers based solutions into business as usual here in Northern Ireland. With that in mind, our approach to innovation during RP6 is to be a “fast follower”, integrating suitably advanced smart and customer based solutions into business as usual. We plan to do this by undertaking a programme of focused pilots with the objective of developing cost effective alternatives to conventional network investment. Read more about these projects and how we selected them within Our Innovation Projects section of our website.

Evolving from a DNO to a DSO

As well as developing technical innovative solutions it is also recognised that to manage the future distribution network there will need to be changes to the roles and responsibilities of DNOs, a change often described as the evolution of a DNO to a Distribution System Operator (DSO). Within the DNO – DSO Evolution section of our website read about how we are developing this vision by working with the Energy Networks Association (ENA) on their Open Networks Project and asking our customers for their opinion.