Thames River economy focuses on electrification

A new generation of electric vessels could help power London’s energy network.

Thames vessel operators and London’s electricity network could become partners on an ambitious project.

The Electric Thames project is assessing the possibility of using electric vessels to feed stored electricity back into the capital’s energy network.

Using a principle similar to night storage heaters, battery-powered vessels on the Thames could store green en ergy when it is cheap to do so, such as during windy weather or sunny days, and feed it back to the grid during peak electricity hours. This could boost the capital’s flexible energy capacity and reduce peak electricity demand.

The project’s initial ‘discovery’ phase concludes at the end of May 2024, with Thames vessel and quay operators surveyed to identify and map out their needs. This will allow power suppliers to plan and complete any works needed to facilitate the move to cleaner vessel and river operations along the river.

Andy Hurley, director at Marine Zero, said: “Along with our project partners at LCP Delta and UK Power Networks, we are developing a completely new approach to increasing energy flexibility by developing new income streams and flexible solutions for vessel and quay operators.”

Luca Grella, head of innovation at UK Power Networks, said: “This is a first-of-its-kind project in the UK, and one that is operating at the forefront of energy innovation. Tapping into this potential will not only help us create a cleaner Thames for everyone but will also give us an additional supply of flexible, green energy which will help our transition to a decarbonised energy system.

“We’re thrilled to be leading the way in this space and are also looking forward to seeing how this approach could be scaled to other rivers across the country.”

Navigating to new energy

Most of the boats, quaysides, and ports operating on the Thames – which supports a busy freight sector as well as 8 million passenger trips per year – currently rely on fossil fuels. This is starting to change, however, as the river’s economy decarbonises.

But as increasing numbers of Thames vessel and quayside operators move to electric power sources, there is limited understanding about how the shift will affect the capital’s power network and peak power demands.

The project team will consult quay owners, vessel operators, and other stakeholders to understand the opportunities for investing in electrification and a sustainable route to revenue.

Phillip Twiddy, Senior Consultant, LCP Delta, commented: “It’s fantastic to be involved in such a strategic project that could deliver some real benefits. The project aims to help the marine sector lower their emissions yet also have certainty in their energy source. It will also help to accelerate the energy transition.”

The outcomes of the project could shape a new whole-system planning framework for the nation’s rivers, canals, and waterways, offering insights for decarbonisation and electrification that could be replicated across the UK.

The Electric Thames Project, funded by the Ofgem Strategic Innovation Fund, is a collaboration between UK Power Networks, LCP Delta, and Marine Zero.

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