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Electric Thames

Ambitious electricity project to accelerate decarbonisation of the
River Thames

A new generation of electric vessels could help to power London’s energy network, generating income for vessel operators and reducing emissions in the capital.

An ambitious project is underway which could see a radical new relationship between Thames vessel operators and London’s electricity network.

The Electric Thames project, a collaboration between UK Power Networks, LCP Delta, and Marine Zero, is assessing the viability of using electric vessels to feed stored electricity back into the capital’s energy network, accelerating the transition to Net Zero.

Using a principle similar to night storage heaters, battery-powered vessels on the Thames could store green energy when it is cheap to do so, such as when the wind is blowing or sun is shining, and feed it back to the grid during peak electricity hours. The approach could help increase the capital’s flexible energy capacity and reduce peak electricity demand. 

The project, which is in its initial ‘discovery’ or scoping phase, supports the Port of London Authority’s transition to net zero emissions and London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s pathway for London to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030. The discovery phase of the project, which is funded via the Ofgem Strategic Innovation Fund, will conclude at the
end of May 2024.

Thames vessel and quay operators will be surveyed over the coming weeks 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 Thames. 

Andy Hurley, director at Marine Zero, said: “Electric Thames isn’t just about achieving zero emissions on our capital’s river – it is even more exciting and significant than that. 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 new and flexible solutions for vessel and quay operators.

“We are delighted that Marine Zero has been selected to support the discovery phase of the project using our maritime experience and intelligence, and we look forward to engaging with operators along the Thames over the coming weeks.”

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 a new energy source 

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 in response to climate change and net zero ambitions. 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 Electric Thames project team will consult quay owners, vessel operators, and other stakeholders in order 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.
Electric Thames has been supported by the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). Delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, the SIF programme taps into the best of UK an international innovation and aims to align with other public innovation funding for the benefit of customers across the United Kingdom.