Innovation

Innovation at Orion

Our energy system must fundamentally transform to enable society’s equitable transition to a low carbon, resilient future. Our increasing reliance on renewable electricity generation, the growth of distributed energy resources, and increasing value of demand side flexibility creates new opportunities for customer participation and community resilience.

Local electricity distribution businesses (EDBs), such as Orion, play a critical role in enabling the transition - connecting customers across our region and facilitating efficient operation of the local system for the benefit of consumers.

We must explore, learn and innovate together – as EDBs, as an energy sector, and as a region to co-create the energy future our community seeks. We invite our customers, communities, partners and stakeholders to join us on this innovation journey.

Innovation strategy

Innovation is critical to meet the complex challenges facing the energy sector. The Orion Innovation Strategy will enable a portfolio of exploration to accelerate the pace of change.

Innovation strategies

Innovation projects

Innovation is needed to adapt to the changing landscape of the electricity sector and take advantage of exciting opportunities that improve outcomes for consumers.

Below are examples of innovation projects that Orion is involved in.

Our Innovation Strategy contains some innovation project case studies and list of innovation projects at various stages.

Advanced drone technology

Orion has explored how advanced technology and drones can expedite the detection and diagnosis of faults during power outages. By using thermal imaging and live streaming capabilities, faults can now be identified significantly faster, reducing outage durations, and improving operational safety.  

Orion has collaborated with other distribution networks to share and scale the benefits of this technology across the industry.

Automatic power restoration

To restore power to our communities quickly following a fault, an Automatic Power Restoration System (APRS) has been developed. The APRS leverages the power of remote switches with a restoration algorithm that significantly reduces outage times.

As the first EDB in the country to test this technology, our objective is to move from testing the system to full control.

EEA FlexTalk

FlexTalk, led by the EEA(external link), is a collaborative industry initiative to evaluate the processes that need to be in place to apply the OpenADR communication protocol to achieve active managed charging of EVs, enabling flexibility in New Zealand.

Orion is a funding and delivery partner and has been part of the Project Design Team from the early stage.

Home Energy Living Lab

Orion is developing a Home Energy Living Lab to better understand the implications of changing household energy profiles and knowledge needs of our residential customers, and trial products or services that support the low-carbon energy transition. As we gather insights and learnings, we are exploring expanding the project in collaboration with partners.

Lincoln Flexibility

The situation

Lincoln is seeing large scale residential growth, which is raising the demand for electricity in the area. Traditionally that growth in demand would require more electricity network to be built, however by utilising batteries already in the community, Orion is looking to reduce network demand at key times, for instance winter morning or evening peaks.  

Flexibility support from batteries will be used to reduce peak electricity demand in the area in 2024 and 2025 and could also potentially be used to lessen the impact of an outage in the area.  

What we explored

Orion went through a competitive procurement process to seek an alternative solution to traditional network build that could reduce peak demand in the area and chose to partner with Ecotricity as the flexibility service provider. Ecotricity’s proposal involves a primarily residential-based battery solution. 

Desired outcomes

Lincoln Flex is part of other projects in Orion’s flexibility and markets development programme to maximise customer participation and support decarbonisation at lowest cost. These flexibility-related innovation trials are providing valuable insight and evidence on the effectiveness of different solutions, including which ones to scale and where there are opportunities for further exploration.

For Lincoln, a solution to communicate with Ecotricity and dispatch the flexibility service has been implemented, with the objective to be scalable. This solution is embedded within Orion’s operations systems, enabling new functions and ways of working. The project will enable learning for integrating non-network solutions on other sites and working with other providers in the future, while also defining Orion’s requirements for a flexibility management system.

Publications

Lincoln Flexibility Trial - Expression Of Interest (December 2022) [PDF, 638 KB]
Lincoln Flexibility Trial – Request for Proposal (June 2023) – published on GETS
Partner Selected – Ecotricity (October 2023)
Go Live Announcement for Winter 2024 – coming soon

Resi-Flex

The situation

The transition towards net-zero emissions is leading to an increasing reliance on electricity. Recent reports, such as "The Future is Electric" by The Boston Consulting Group, highlight the importance of more demand-side flexibility to support the integration of intermittent renewable generation and to improve the utilisation of electricity networks.

Demand-side flexibility can be provided by Consumer Energy Resources (CER) such as EV charging, electric hot water heating or residential batteries. However, most consumers are unaware of the existing or future value of flexibility or how this impacts their power bill.

The Electricity Authority Market Development Advisory Group have emphasised the need for tariff and technology innovation to ensure customers have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about electricity use and demand-side flexibility.

What we explored

In response to these challenges, the concept for Resi-Flex was initiated by Orion in March 2022 through its Innovation Pipeline. The project aims to incentivise flexibility from residential consumers by exploring commercial mechanisms in collaboration with flexibility stakeholders. Building on connections through the FlexForum, Orion and Wellington Electricity partnered on the project to drive progress, leverage shared resources and expertise, and develop scalable insight.

The ongoing Resi-Flex project is taking a learning-by-doing and exploratory approach. It started by discovering user requirements from various perspectives across the flexibility value chain including consumers, flexibility stakeholders, and distribution network companies. These insights have informed the development of commercial mechanisms that could incentivise greater use of flexibility resources in the future.

The next step in the project is to partner with flexibility suppliers to co-design customer offerings based on the selected commercial mechanisms and trial these with consumers.

Desired outcomes

Resi-Flex is providing insight on residential flexibility to inform the design of trials and supports steps in the FlexForum’s Flexibility Plan. The trials will inform the effectiveness of different solutions and which ones to scale.  Ultimately, this will create opportunities for residential consumers to provide flexibility, while supporting equitable outcomes for all consumers.

Publications

Industry collaborations

Orion collaborates with various partners in our community, the energy sector, and with entrepreneurs and industry to innovate towards powering a cleaner and brighter future.

Ara Ake EDB Decarbonisation Challenge

Orion collaborated with seven other EDBs and Ara Ake to select three challenge winners, and are running pilots with two innovators:

Find out more about the Ara Ake EDB Challenge(external link)

Energy Futures Lab

Established by Orion to address complex energy system innovation, locally focused in Canterbury and nationally relevant in terms of collaboration and learning.

The first challenge area has brought 20 organisations together and identified six opportunities to collaborate towards an equitable energy transition in mid-Canterbury, including shared insights, on local household energy hardship interventions.

Electricity Networks Aotearoa Future Networks Forum

Orion co-chairs the ENA’s Future Network Forum which has workstreams on outreach, strategy, and collaborative solutions. This involves co-ordinating with EDBs, the EEA, retailers, flexibility providers, DG investors, Transpower and other stakeholders to develop aligned solutions that work for the whole system.

Flex Forum

The FlexForum(external link) is a cross industry group formed to identify a set of actions to integrate distributed energy resources (DER) into the electricity system and markets to maximise the benefits for Aotearoa New Zealand.

As a member of the FlexForum, Orion are supporting coordination and collaborative action to enable a smart and flexible energy system.

Orion Energy Accelerator

Powered by Orion Group and Ministry of Awesome, the Orion Energy Accelerator(external link) supports high impact energy innovations that will help New Zealand move towards a carbon neutral future.

This successful collaboration is also supported by Callaghan Innovation and Ara Ake.

Get in touch with us about innovation