Climate change is the greatest challenge facing mankind at this time. Decisions we make now will determine the future of our planet and life on earth. It has become crucial that we change the way we live in order to reduce harmful carbon emissions and reach net zero by 2050.
Time is running out and acting now is the only way forward. In the next ten years the renewable energy industry must fulfil a number of goals.
There is much work to be done but the future looks promising with the emergence of viable technologies as well as some political commitment and investment.
Undoubtedly, in order to have any chance of reaching net zero by 2050 big changes need to be made. Currently 85 per cent of homes and 40 per cent of the UK’s power needs are supplied by gas. If the UK is to become one of the world’s first net zero economies by 2050 the gas sector needs to set out a plan for decarbonisation. In the next decade alone, it is essential that low carbon heating systems are installed in approximately 2.8 million homes.
Nicola Shaw, Executive director at the National Grid has laid out some ways that both her company and the UK can make the most of the huge opportunities that will come with the progression to net zero emissions. The National Grid is working with their industry partners as part of the Future Gas Forum to research different ways that our homes can be warm but environmentally friendly. One of their main proposals is a switch to hydrogen which is cleaner than the methane most often used at present. There are various difficulties that need to be overcome such as producing hydrogen at scale and adapting the current infrastructure. Tests are being carried out on ways of safely transporting hydrogen around the transmission network. An example of this is Project Cavendish which is researching ways that hydrogen can be produced, stored, and imported at the Isle of Grain in Kent, to get hydrogen to the South of London. Other projects are looking at how hydrogen or a mix of hydrogen and methane can be carried around the gas transmission network. All these projects are vital if low carbon energy, is to be delivered reliably and safely to all consumers.
In another bid to make carbon savings, the National Grid has been sending robots down high-pressure gas pipelines to carry out checks and repairs. This not only reduces maintenance costs but also generates annual savings of more than 2,000 tonnes of carbon which is the equivalent to the emissions of 500 households.
The changeover to electric cars is another very important condition in the shift to net zero emissions by 2050. The UK needs to see the installation of approximately 60,000 charging points to power nearly 11 million electric vehicles in the next decade.
The National Grid has come up with a proposal to install a network of ultra-fast chargers at UK motorway service stations which would cut charge time to as little as five to 10 minutes. They appreciate that with new petrol and diesel cars no longer on the market from 2035 they need to be prepared for the big increase in electric cars. They believe that faster transition is possible and that they are robust enough to cope with the forecast uptake in EVs. They do think though that some targeted investment will be required to ensure that there are suitable places where drivers can access sufficient high-power charging away from home.
In alliance with Equinor and Drax, the National Grid is investigating the possibility of achieving the creation of a net zero industrial cluster in the Humber region. The three companies together are committed to £800,000 of funding as part of a £2.6m project to plan out industrial decarbonisation on a grand scale. The Humber area employs 55,000 people and contributes £18bn towards UK GDP making it already home to the UK’s largest industrial economy. The workforce has a significant skillset established from taking part in activities such as refining, petrochemicals, and manufacturing. Using this experience and adding the right support and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technology means that Humber and by default the UK, will lead the way in decarbonisation and regeneration of the area.
Today, the UK has 10GW of offshore wind but this needs to take a giant leap to 75GW under net zero. Up until now the National Grid has connected wind farms to the grid one by one but this needs to change now to allow for the further 65GW needed. Long-term solutions need to be developed to ensure we don’t create bottlenecks and that disruption to coastal communities is minimal. The National Grid fully supports the government’s recent review into offshore wind farms. They are playing their part by evaluating the costs and benefits of different coordinated network designs and technologies. In doing this they can encourage innovation, harness the economic benefits, and create highly skilled jobs.
It is vital that in the next decade that low carbon electricity generation is increased by approximately 50% from sources such as wind or solar power.
National Grid Partners, has backed a range of companies that are assisting the progress of a lower carbon future. One example of this is Autogrid which is developing sophisticated technology to bring more renewable energy into the system. Another example is Carbon Lighthouse which is helping building owners to cut energy waste to fight climate change.
We have already passed the point that saw most of the UK’s energy coming from coal-fired power stations. Those days are over. To ensure that this continues the National Grid is creating a network of interconnectors. These undersea cables enable smarter energy systems to react quickly to changes in supply and demand, ensuring renewable energy flows from where it is being generated in large quantities, to where it is needed most. Over £3 billion has been invested in 4.4GW of new interconnector capacity since 2014, which provides access to enough electricity to power 11 million homes. There is potential to add a further 9.5 GW of interconnectors in order to deliver a smarter, more flexible future energy system.
The number one aim for the National Grid is to enable the transition to a clean and low carbon future but they are also looking closely at their own operations to ensure they are doing the right thing. In the UK, the National Grid has promised to replace over 50 per cent of their internal fleet with alternative fuel vehicles by 2026. They are continuing to lead in developing alternatives to the insulating gas SF6 and will no longer install any equipment that uses this greenhouse gas. Further to this they are also looking at lower carbon construction methods and have set a target of increasing the energy efficiency of their own buildings by 10 per cent.
You may not have realised that the National Grid had such a pivotal role to play in tackling climate change but they are doing much more than just keeping the lights on or the gas flowing.