National Grid unveils £60bn investment plan to turbocharge net-zero power grid

The National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) has today (19 March) unveiled a new £60bn investment plan to fast-track Britain’s transition to a net-zero power grid by 2035 by boosting clean energy jobs and growing the offshore wind sector.

National Grid unveils £60bn investment plan to turbocharge net-zero power grid

Image: National Grid

The new £58bn investment plan proposes a set of financial levers that would enable the electricity grid to meet growing demand while decarbonising to ensure the Government’s commitment to a net-zero power grid is met.

The plan would seek to connect an additional 21GW of offshore wind off the coast of Scotland to the grid in an efficient and coordinated way, delivering a world-leading offshore wind sector with more than 86GW of capacity.

The prime location for offshore wind capacity would be located in Scottish Waters, accounting for around 30GW. The plan also focuses on wide-scale investment, in the form of new electrical spines and cables, to transport clean energy across the country.

The ESO claims the new plan would be in line with the existing decarbonisation aims of the Sixth Carbon Budget and would create and sustain around 20,000 jobs annually, with 90% of the benefits occurring outside London and the Southeast.

The ESO’s executive director Fintan Slye said: “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.”

The new electrical spine could span from Peterhead to Merseyside, based on consultations. The ESO is targeting three times more undersea cabling than onshore by 2035.

However, the new plan will require joined-up action from government, regulators and communities to deliver the infrastructure by 2035.

The announcement comes just days after Energy Security and Net-Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho set out proposed measures to shift to zonal pricing – whereby electricity costs differ regionally.

She touted a £45-per-year saving from the average British household’s energy bills as a result of the changes, which will be consulted upon until 7 May.

2035 off-track

MPs and green groups have previously highlighted that the UK is off-track to meet its 2035 commitment to end unabated fossil fuel electricity generation.

The UK is notably striving to host 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, 70GW of solar by 2035 and up to 24GW of nuclear by 2050.

National Grid estimates that the UK will need to host 20-25GW of energy storage capacity by 2035 if the Government is to achieve its electricity decarbonisation goals. For context, around 4GW was operational at the end of 2023.

Gas developers should also ensure that their plants are ‘net-zero ready’ and able to convert to other alternatives in the future, or operate carbon capture. The UK Government refers to this as ‘abatement’ and wants all unabated gas offline by 2035.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has previously claimed that while emissions from the power sector have fallen by 69% since 2010, more needs to be done to create and deliver the infrastructure required for a net-zero sector.

Commenting on the announcement, Nick Winser, commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “The ESO’s blueprint for a decarbonised electricity system is a welcome step forward in planning the network infrastructure we will need to meet increasing electricity demand.

“It’s critical that this investment is delivered quickly. This will require coordinated action from transmission owners, government and Ofgem, including ensuring that the planning system is not a blocker to delivery. The communities hosting this infrastructure must also see direct benefits from its deployment.”

RenewableUK’s director of future energy systems, Barnaby Wharton, added that the plan is “ambitious” but “absolutely vital to slash bills, make our economy more competitive and boost energy security”.

He said: “This report shows that building vital new grid will create 20,000 new jobs and boost our economy by £15 billion a year in parts of the country which need regeneration. It also highlights the fact that local communities will have a strong voice in the wide-ranging consultations which will determine how these plans are delivered in a way which minimises environmental impacts , and that local benefit funds will be set up to recognise communities hosting new grid”.

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