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UK Government outlines plan to deliver cleaner, smarter electricity grid

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Through a series of articles, Electrical Review will break down the key ways in which the Government plans to meet its net zero ambitions. In this article, we’ll explore all the ways in which the UK will reduce emissions from generating electricity. This includes investment in renewables and a smarter grid

The UK Government has committed in law that the country will achieve net zero emissions by 2050, with it now releasing its plan to achieve that goal.

Naturally, one of the key targets for the UK Government is decarbonising the energy grid, as well as making it more efficient by using smarter technology. We’ve already seen how technology can make a massive difference when it comes to unlocking capacity, but technology could also help the UK reduce its overall demand on the grid. 

So, what is the Government’s plan for creating a cleaner and smarter electricity grid? Well, it all starts from electricity generation. A target has been set that means all of the UK’s electricity needs will be met by low carbon sources by 2035, bringing forward the Government’s previous commitment by 15 years. 

There is a slight warning, however, with the Government noting that this goal is ‘subject to the security of supply’, meaning if a decarbonised grid came at the cost of having enough electricity to meet demand – it would rather put decarbonisation on hold. That said, industry sources have already confirmed that it’s possible to decarbonise the grid without worrying about the security of supply, so this shouldn’t be a concern. 

But how does the Government envisage a low-carbon grid? Well, it is betting big on renewable energy. It’s doing this by accelerating the deployment of both wind and solar projects through the Contracts of Difference scheme, with it set to undertake a review of the frequency of the CfD auctions. 

Additionally, it wants to deliver, in partnership with private firms, 40GW of offshore wind power, including 1GW of floating offshore wind, by 2030. This will further extend the UK’s lead in offshore wind, although it could be caught by other countries with similar ambitions. 

In order to deploy this new offshore wind, the Government is committing £380 million towards the offshore wind sector, which will be invested into the supply chains, infrastructure and early-coordination of offshore transmission networks. 

Despite renewables playing a big role, however, the UK Government is now realising that it doesn’t want to put all of its eggs in one basket. That’s why it’s also committed to making a final investment decision on a large-scale nuclear plant by the end of this Parliament. Additionally, it has signalled that it will support the deployment of mini nuclear reactors across the UK to the tune of £120 million. 

As part of this commitment for nuclear, it’s becoming clearer that the Government supports getting Sizewell C constructed, with it also noting that a new nuclear power plant at Wylfa remains viable. In fact, the Welsh Secretary has noted that Wylfa station has a ‘better than reasonable chance’ of being built by Westinghouse. 

Additionally, smart technology will play a key role in decarbonisation – starting with smart meters. The Government believes that smart meters will encourage consumers to change their habits and utilise electricity when it’s cheaper, or invest in more energy-efficient products within their homes by giving them a clear overview of how much electricity they’re using. While some in the industry would argue they’re not the silver bullet they purport to be, the UK Government is set to introduce a fixed minimum annual installation target for energy suppliers from January 1, 2022. 

The decarbonisation of the UK’s electricity grid isn’t going to come cheap. In its report, the Government noted that, “To fully decarbonise the power sector at the pace we have set out whilst meeting increasing demand, total public and private investment of £280-400 billion is needed in generation capacity and flexible assets.” It appears that the plan is currently that the majority of this investment will come from the private sector. 

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