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Catalysing energy innovation in the North East

It’s been just over a year since I began my role as Energy Innovation Partnership Manager at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), helping to showcase the outstanding facilities our region has for energy innovation and demonstration.

I work closely with 12 other organisations that together make up the North East Energy Catalyst – a partnership that unites the leading energy demonstration capabilities in our region, meaning we can work together to show that the North East is the location of choice for anyone who wants to test new energy innovations.

Despite the unexpected events that 2020 threw at us, it was still a year in which we built up a real momentum in showing what our region has to offer, and it was gratifying to see that, when the government announced its Green Industrial Revolution plan, and released its white paper, Powering our net zero future, at the end of last year, the North East was already positioned to lead the way on the UK’s Net Zero agenda.

There are exciting projects underway in a number of areas, including the use of hydrogen as a low carbon fuel, and the use of heat pumps, which are being demonstrated on a large scale in Newcastle.

And we’ve identified a route for the North East to push itself forward even further, through the North East Future Energy System Today (North East-FEST) programme, which identifies the sectors and the global energy challenges which will allow the North East to lead the way to a decarbonised future for the UK.

A skilled workforce is obviously crucial to our energy sector so we’re also working closely with colleagues in the North East LEP skills team to understand the skills needed as the sector evolves due to decarbonisation.

A real highlight of last year was awarding £100,000 of funding to SMEs in our region to help them develop new products through the Energy Innovation Challenge programme. The programme invites SMEs to put forward solutions to a number of different challenges that the energy sector is facing, such as how to best use data to monitor energy use and carbon footprints, or how to find alternatives to diesel generators for powering off-grid homes.

The programme launched in March 2020 and the response has been fantastic, and a testament to the brilliant people we have working in our region. Five SMEs have now received funding (find out who they are here), we’re currently working with another cohort who entered the second round of the challenge, and the third and final round is open for entries now – so if your business might be able to develop a new way of using materials in any aspect of any part of our electricity, gas or water infrastructure, then you could be awarded up to £40,000 to make the idea a reality. Find out how to enter the Energy Innovation Challenge here.

All this progress is thanks to the hard work of the North East Energy Catalyst partners, and the many other businesses who have been a part of our work in 2020. I hope that in 2021 we can build on what’s been achieved and involve even more businesses in our aim of showing that the North East is the place to do business for energy innovators.

Find out more about the Energy Innovation Challenge.