Is It Possible to Electrify the Broads?

This is a question that is crucial to one of our current innovation platforms, The Electrification of the Broads. On 24th April 2020 the working group for this innovation platform held its first meeting. The point of the project is to look at the current state of electrification of The Broads and work with The Broads Authority to help improve this. The Broads Authority currently has a decarbonisation plan in place to reduce the emissions of the region to carbon neutral status by 2030, and net carbon zero by 2040. This equates to the reduction of 131,000 tCO2e of emissions which are currently under The Broads Authority’s scope of influence.

What is Electrification?

Electrification is the process of reducing carbon-based energy sources across a region through the increased use of electricity over fossil fuels. One of the biggest things this means for The Broads is a move away from traditional fossil fuel powered boats. There is a whole range of boats in the region, some very modern and fuel efficient, and some with significantly older engines which are deeply inefficient. Both private owners and hire companies are increasing the number of electric boats in the region, and there are a series of charging points in place across the area to support this. Currently these are limited to some of the higher traffic areas, and the coverage of charging points is by no means comprehensive even in these regions.

The Broads is a significant area of land and waterways, many of which are relatively remote. One of the challenges to increasing charging points in these remote regions is the accessibility to power. Running significant power cables out to these areas would be an enormous cost, both financially and temporally. The size of project needed to bring power to some of these remote regions is sizeable. In order to enable the total reduction of carbon across the broads, there needs to be a more intelligent approach to electrification, as it is only a piece of the decarbonisation puzzle.

Setting Up the Group

The focus for the group at the moment, and going into this first meeting, was to investigate the feasibility for a project in the region aiming to increase the uptake and accessibility to electric boats. This is a project lead by The Broads Authority, but it was important to involve local business and expertise to feed into the knowledge pool for the project. Innovation platforms are collaborative by nature and so we reached out to energy companies, solar panel installers, community energy projects, off grid battery storage developers, and alternative energy suppliers. Having this range of expertise in the room was invaluable.

Coming from the meeting it has become clear that more work needs to be done on the background research that will feed into any project like this. Everyone made really good suggestions and raised good questions including:

  • The potential for hybrid LPG/Electric boats as a short-term transitional approach
  • The need for data on current usage and demand that would exist if all boats were electric
  • The setting up of remote sites / off grid locations and the amount of power that would be needed to make it useable
  • The need for consultation with stakeholders in the region, and how to best connect with boat owners

What’s Next?

Next for the group is to look into some research for these topics. Looking to local universities for local information, as well as further afield for studies that may provide information on projects similar to this. What is important for this kind of project is to focus the project on pull mechanisms, rather than push approaches. The idea being that stakeholders and those affected by these decisions should be part of the process and helping to pull the project form us, rather than us pushing it onto them. The nature of having The Broads Authority approaching Hethel Innovation and Cleantech East is a good start to this, and now having the businesses asking us the right questions is the expert input that we need.

Be Part Of The Project

If you are interested in being part of the project, have any thoughts or ideas you wish to feed into it or would like to discuss in more detail get in touch!

Andy Narayn-Barrow: anarayn-barrow@hethelinnovation.com