OxLEP-backed project – set to be a key player in championing innovation in the energy systems transition – begins exciting journey

the UK large scale Demonstrator Local Energy Oxfordshire (LEO) will benefit from mini-TESA’s collaborative workapproach

A pilot project for an innovative energy systems accelerator – one of several schemes to have benefitted from government funding secured by OxLEP – is set to make a major impact in the drive towards a zero-carbon future.

The Energy Systems Accelerator pilot – better known as Mini TESA – is a world-leading multi-disciplinary hub, championing technical and services innovation in the energy systems transition. The hub is based at Osney Mead in Oxford and began operating at the start of the year.

Working in partnership with the University of Oxford, Mini TESA is one of several projects supported by the Government’s Getting Building Fund, set up with the aim to help kick-start the UK economy following the emergence of the Coronavirus.

The pilot project has seen the transformation of Holywell House into a co-working space with the potential to host up to 100 workstations (with social distancing), as well as being home to an ideas-exchange hub where different disciplines and organisations can develop radical thinking.

By facilitating industry and academic collaboration across all energy sectors (electricity, heat and mobility), new approaches to the energy transition can be accelerated and deployed at scale. This will drive innovation in low carbon technologies and services nationally and internationally, helping to ensure the UK meets its legally-binding carbon targets.

The pilot space will now be used to inform the final design and operational practices of a ‘full TESA’ project, bringing forward its benefits by a whole year. The pilot itself is set to create 102 new jobs for the Oxfordshire economy.

Now operational, mini-TESA houses two University research groups, the Low Carbon Hub (a social enterprise), and a team from Scottish and Southern Energy Networks (the local electricity distributor).

It also houses the University’s MSc in Energy Systems and has hot-desking spaces for part-time occupants. Finally, it has a facility for hosting large-scale ‘SPRINTS’, where many stakeholders can come together to discuss underlying issues to the energy transition, with the aim of identifying pathways to smooth the transition.

Once the pilot has proved to be successful and further funding is secured, the full TESA will incorporate a 10,000m2 international facility where up to 800 practitioners, stakeholders and academics can work and interact, maximising creativity.

The full TESA is set to be net-carbon negative and located in the new Innovation District, which will regenerate the West End of Oxford.

The full TESA is a flagship project within the Oxfordshire Local Industrial Strategy – launched by OxLEP in September 2019 – which will underpin UK innovation in net-zero solutions, as well as pioneering energy systems.

OxLEP – working with the University of Oxford – secured £600,000 of funding for the Mini TESA project via the Getting Building Fund, with the total cost of the project being £785,000.

Working alongside private and public sector partners from across the county, during the summer of 2020, OxLEP secured a total of £8.4million-worth of investment for Oxfordshire, giving businesses and communities an all-important boost following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since its inception in 2011, OxLEP – with its partners – has secured over £1bn-worth of funding for Oxfordshire, which has seen more than 65,000 new jobs created in the county to-date.

In total, OxLEP currently oversees a £2.2bn growth programme for the county.

Greg Hands, Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change said: “Today marks an exciting new chapter for Oxfordshire with this flagship project set to make waves across the UK energy sector and local economy.

“As part of the government’s ‘Getting Building Fund’, this is one of many innovative projects that aims to accelerate the UK’s economic revival while delivering sustainable growth across the country.”

Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of OxLEP, said: “The completion of this initial project is excellent news and will have a further significant impact on supporting a drive towards a zero-carbon future for the county.

“This project showcases how – with the right level of investment – Oxfordshire is well-set to ‘do more’ and create further solutions to address the climate emergency. It is particularly clear in light of COP26, how Oxfordshire is inspiring young minds, entrepreneurs and collaborators to understand that the county is the location ‘of choice’ when it comes to opportunities available to support the drive to zero-carbon.

“It also aligns directly with the Getting Building Fund’s main aim of accelerating economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the Local Enterprise Partnership for Oxfordshire, we will continue to play a vitally important role for the county moving forward, securing investment that enables new opportunities that will benefit the county’s businesses for many years to come.”

Professor Chas Bountra, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Innovation) for the University of Oxford, said: “The University is proud to be leading this project, bringing together engineers, scientists and social scientists from within the University to work closely with businesses and civic stakeholders.

“The Oxford innovation ecosystem is the perfect place for this collaboration to ensure we make the very best improvements to energy systems that will contribute to a zero-carbon future. Not only that, but TESA will support entrepreneurs building new businesses, create jobs, and encourage investment and economic growth in the local community and across the UK.”

Professor Ronald A. Roy, Head of the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, added: “There is rapidly growing awareness of the crosscutting nature of energy systems science and technology. It is not something that can be effectively pursued by a single investigator, group or academic department.

“At its core, the Energy Systems Accelerator pilot is an interdisciplinary concept designed to accelerate the translation of basic research knowledge rooted in discrete disciplines to systems-level technological advances that will lead the zero-carbon transition. In addition, it will host our wildly popular MSc Energy Systems programme, thereby enhancing the interaction “cross-section” between students and world class researchers.

“The Department of Engineering Science is pleased to team with the Department of Materials and the School of Geography and the Environment in this exciting effort.”

Overall, Oxfordshire’s Getting Building Fund investment is set to support a number of emerging clean energy projects in the county, creating hundreds of new jobs in the process.

Getting Building Fund projects also recognise the possible ‘changing face’ of work patterns in Oxfordshire, supporting businesses to be more agile in-light of COVID-19.

Collectively, Oxfordshire-focused schemes supported by the Getting Building Fund are set to lead to the creation of 472 new jobs – as well as an additional 43 construction-focused roles – with the fund also ready to safeguard a further 324 jobs.