East Anglia: EEEGR Energy Innovation Awards reveal plenty of new ideas in the pipeline

The EEEGR Innovation Awards winners, front row, from left, Sotiris Georgiopoulos (UK Power Networks

The EEEGR Innovation Awards winners, front row, from left, Sotiris Georgiopoulos (UK Power Networks), Steve Gerrity (Equalizer International) and Gabriele Rampinelli (SubC) with, back row, from left, compere Johnathan Reynolds, judge's chairman John Balch and EEEGR chief executive Simon Gray. - Credit: Archant

Unique British-designed and manufactured smart tools for use in pipeline maintenance stole the show at the East of England Energy Group’s 2014 EEEGR Energy Innovation Awards

Equalizer International took the main award after a competition between nine finalists whose “Dragons’ Den” style presentations before a live audience were assessed by expert panel of judges.

Runner-up was SubC’s FlexiCrane, which can quickly and easily be assembled on location at sites where help is need for easier and simpler movement of tools or materials.

And the Low Carbon Award went to UK Power Networks for its Flexible Plug and Play which help accommodate the increasing demand for connections to the grid from solar farms and onshore wind farms. It has been trialled in the East of England area but is expected to be introduced across the region and potentially nationwide.

Judges also gave a “special mention” to a fourth entry, the TranSPAR prototype designed for rapid deployment from a central hub in the next generation of offshore wind farms, recognising its potential with further development. The concept was introduced by Peter Gifford who had travelled from Canada to make the presentation on behalf of Extreme Ocean and James Fisher (Fendercare).

EEEGR is the industry association for energy in the East of England, representing more than 350 members across the supply chain. It is a non-profit, business-led group committed to the sustained development of the energy sector in the region and the continued success of its members.

The Energy Innovation Awards, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, were announced during a ceremony at Norwich City Football Club’s Top of the Terrace venue.

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Johnathan Reynolds, director of Nautilus Associates, who compered the event for EEEGR, said the awards had again attracted a record number of entries, with the quality and variety higher than ever.

Steve Gerrity, of Equalizer International, said that being in the finals had offered the opportunity to present a simple idea to a large audience.

Historically, work such as flange alignment on pipelines had often been resolved by “crowbar and sledgehammer” but the Equalizer tools were simple, easy and effective for the cost of “a couple of week’s wages”, he said.

“But an innovation is only useful if it becomes commercially attractive to operators so being in the finals was as important as winning, although that was the cherry on the cake,” Mr Gerrity added.

“Equalizer is a private company built on a simple idea from rigger Graham Stephen. Sadly he died a year ago and I am proud and honoured to be here on his behalf and that of brother Bob, who is still a director in the company.

“The concept goes back 20 years and has had success in 40 different countries There has been a reaction in UK and we want to tackle the market with our fourth generation of unique flange alignment tools.” Existing customers include Shell (Bacton), EDF and Siemens.

Neil Parry, from Esbjerg-based SubC, said they were delighted to see FlexiCrane named runner-up in a competition with such high quality entries and high standards. It was important recognition in the UK which was a key market for them, he added.

Sotiris Georgiopoulos, from UK Power Networks, said: “We are delighted to have the award for our contribution to the low carbon economy in a strong competition with a lot of good entries.”

The company had successfully trialled the Flexible Plug and Play with 11 customers to smooth the flow of generated power into the grid. The idea would be spread further afield later this year, he said.

Guest speaker at the event was David McNally, chief executive of Norwich City FC, who drew several parallels between what he called “the wonderful world of energy and the bizarre world of football”.

Both were relentless 24/7 industries and both needed innovative thinking, as had happened with Norwich in the summer of 2009 when they were in League One and “bust”, he said. Both were also involved in a global business but with a major responsibility for their local communities. And he said he was amazed to hear of the pioneering work of the East of England energy business over 50 years through to the multi-billion-pound business it was today. He hinted that Norwich City were keen to establish more partners within the energy world.

The companies successful in this year’s EEEGR Energy Innovation Awards can look forward to a significant boost if the experience of last year’s winner is anything to go by.

Marine Power Systems (MPS) from Swansea won the top award in 2013 with its WaveSub prototype which harnesses wave energy and can automatically adjust to optimum depth or protect itself by dropping safely below stormy seas.

“The success came at a vital time for us towards the end of last year,” said MPS managing director Gareth Stockman. “We started our investment campaign this March following the successful test phase and were hugely successful in securing half of the investment target and substantial grant funding within two months. The EEEGR award not only showcased our innovation but gave us further credibility in raising investor confidence.”

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