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National Grid ESO outlines £58 billion overhaul to UK electrical grid

National Grid ESO outlines £58 billion overhaul to UK electrical grid

National Grid ESO has released a detailed report titled “Beyond 2030“, outlining a proposed £58 billion investment aimed at modernising the UK’s electricity grid. The investment is designed to address the increasing demand for electricity and the UK’s shift towards decarbonisation by 2035.

According to the report, the planned investment will integrate an additional 21GW of offshore wind power currently under development off Scotland’s coast into the national grid. This move is expected to elevate the UK’s offshore wind capacity to 86 GW, positioning the nation as a leader in offshore and floating wind farm technology. The initiative contrasts sharply with the current global capacity of 63GW, highlighting a significant leap in renewable energy provision.

To achieve those goals, around 4,000 miles of undersea cables and 1,000 miles of power lines, including pylons, will be needed. The high level of investment will be passed onto consumers, however, with energy bills expected to rise by around £20 to £30. 

The “Beyond 2030” strategy is not only pivotal for the decarbonisation of the electricity system but is also anticipated to bolster economic growth and job creation throughout Great Britain. Independent studies linked to the plan estimate over 20,000 new jobs annually, predominantly benefitting regions outside London and the Southeast.

However, the ESO emphasises the importance of timely and collaborative efforts from various sectors including the energy industry, governmental bodies, regulatory agencies, and local communities to achieve these goals. The infrastructure development required to meet the 2035 objectives necessitates a coordinated approach.

Among the recommendations, the ESO advocates for the expansion of the offshore grid and the exploration of a new electrical ‘spine’ running from north to south, potentially extending from Peterhead to Merseyside. This infrastructure aims to distribute Scottish offshore wind energy throughout Scotland and Northern England. Although still in preliminary stages, this proposal signifies a monumental stride towards a more integrated and sustainable energy landscape.

The ESO also suggests additional offshore connections along Britain’s East coast, which would substantially increase the country’s undersea cabling, enhancing the offshore grid’s extent and coordination.

The report commits to ongoing innovation, design optimisation, and community involvement to ensure that the developments meet diverse community needs while also supporting broader economic and security interests.

Fintan Slye, Executive Director of ESO, commented on the initiative, “Great Britain’s electricity system is the backbone of our economy and must be fit for our future. ESO’s Beyond 2030 network design outlines recommendations on the investment needed and how and where to coordinate the build of this new critical national infrastructure. To deliver the clean, secure, decarbonised system set out by Government and Devolved Governments we must take swift, coordinated and lasting action working collaboratively across all parts of the energy sector, government, the regulator and within our communities.”

Need for investment in the grid

The International Energy Agency has previously warned that the global electricity grid would need around $600 billion of annual investment in order to meet net zero targets. It specifically highlighted the ‘slow progress’ that had been made in the UK, noting the disparity in connecting areas with high renewable generation capability with areas where the electricity demand is higher. 

National Grid ESO recognises the need to change, with the UK moving away from the ‘supergrid’ that was built in the 1950s to one that will be more decentralised. That’s why it has suggested spending nearly £60 billion on upgrades, and Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, believes it has been a long time coming. 

She noted, “The UK’s gas bill has topped £100bn since the price started spiking more than two years ago with tax and bill payers alike having to fork out to cover it. That’s £75bn more than normal and that’s because the UK simply hasn’t invested enough in measures like insulating homes and upgrading the power grid that would have made us less dependent on international gas markets.

“Oil and gas prices are volatile and that won’t change. The Office for Budget Responsibility has modelled a scenario in which energy prices rise again, by 75% in 2025. By reinforcing the grid, we can use more British energy from renewables which will give the UK much greater energy independence as the output of the North Sea inevitably declines.”

A whole new approach

Overhauling the grid will not be easy, however, and will require a whole new approach from National Grid. That includes moving away from paying renewable energy generators to curtail their generation, and instead looking to have energy storage play a larger role in storing that excess electricity. 

Additionally, National Grid ESO envisages a future where hydrogen could play a role in helping store excess energy generation, and where facilities that use a lot of electricity – such as data centres – could be asked to locate to areas where there is an abundance of energy generation, as opposed to having to build additional network capacity. 

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