Its been an interesting exciting, frustrating and rewarding few years at the renewable energy ‘coal face’ in the National Trust. The National Trust especially in Wales i feel has really been pushing at technology development. No great big leaps but creating a space and embedding trust with developers so that we can work on the ‘its not been done before but you know what might work here’ or the ‘we have been thinking about developing a…’ No government technology research grants for innovation but more of a safe evolution space for companies to work with us and dare say ‘take a calculated risk’. Looking back i suppose we kicked off with the development of the LED candle bulb. This was not a ‘pay a huge R&D lump to a company’ but more of a ‘develop what we want with us and we will buy it’ Which we have in the tens of thousands!
On the renewables front we do take part in more cutting edge aspects such as the Combine project which is looking to manufacture biomass briquettes from marginal crop such as highway cuttings or bracken management. This is more of a ‘slow burn’ development. Direct innovation and application to a live project is where we have had good wins. Lately they have been coming in thick and fast. The Marine Source heat pump is one of the best examples of this. One of the key ingredients has been working with SME companies who can react, generate ideas and are happy to work with us and change direction very quickly as we both learn. The Hafod y Porth Hydro near Snowdon is yet another example of this ‘safe place’ to develop. Hydros are bespoke…this is a mater of fact! but there are ways which we can use innovation to reduce costs, reduce risks and speed up the development. At Hafod y Porth working with our developers (GH Jones) we have just installed our first prefab intake weir. A weir is normally cast in-situ and is open to vagaries of the weather, environmental risk of fabrication out on the mountain and also cost. The turbine (TGV and Hydrolite) on this project is a more unitised system and also pared back in terms of technology…but is using tried and tested ‘stuff’ … not in this situation. We have gained on speed of manufacture and install, cost reduction and also size of system (very similar to the marine source heat pump’). the overall result on Hafod y porth to date has been de-risking the build because of the weather, reducing costs and also increasing quality…win, win , win
and where next? watch this blog as there are quite a few ‘innovative’ irons in the fire. what is needed for this innovation to continue?
- Certainty over Government support mechanisms such as FiT and RHi. Innovation can be quick but drops in support mechanisms can be quicker
- Small, competent, professional, fleet-of-foot companies who can see possibilities
- Open relationships with these companies. This ranges from partnership approaches in contracts (ie not wanting to trip each other up on one contract when they can see lots and lots more work ahead of them)
- Focusing on outcome as much as process. Large organisations such as ourselves can be hamstrung with process and loose the purpose of the work. this really makes small companies nervous and normally ramps up the ‘just in case’ costs. Both parties start adding in additional costs just in case the other party in the contract does something unexpected or it goes all ‘legal’
COMMUNICATION IS KING!