Lack of political will, not cash nor technology, is Britain’s drag anchor holding back “the network transformation of our lifetimes”, the boss of power lobbyists Energy UK said this morning.

Emma Pinchbeck, pictured, CEO of the body representing generators & suppliers, launched its call for action as National Grid ESO unveiled this year’s Future Energy Scenarios.

Government action is needed now to inject certainty and pace into unprecedented change in networks, accommodating low carbon generation, said Pinchbeck.

$3 trillion of capital was now available from investment markets seeking investible projects, she added.   But Britain lost out, failing to match the ambition of the US’s Inflation Reduction Act, and the EU’s response.

The Energy UK boss called for enhanced capital allowances for wind & renewables generators to flow from chancellor Hunt’s coming autumn statement, equivalent to tax breaks offered to oil and gas extractors.

“We’re talking about reforms needed now that will influence power markets in 200 and 300 years’ time,” said Pinchbeck.   “Countries that get them right now will be the winners”.

She spoke amid Whitehall worries that premier Rishi Sunak views adequate government responses to climate science as a low priority, even to ensuring a Conservative victory at the next General Election.   Environment minister Zac Goldsmith quit Sunak’s team last week, publically tell the prime minster that under him, Britain was losing its decade of global leadership on the environment.

Energy UK chief Pinchbeck today endorsed suggestions from technical standards body the Energy Networks Association to speed up grid connections keeping constructed wind & solar farms waiting as long as 30 years for connections. Market reforms acknowledging batteries’ importance and de-coupling generation costs from gas were urgently needed.

Britain’s privatised National Grid – Energy System Operator is plotting a course to transform itself into the nation’s Future System Operator, planning an epoch-defining reconfiguration of how UK energy and heat are made, traded, used and increasingly, saved.  Its 2023 Future Energy Scenarios frame the fundamental changes necessary in terms of infrastructure, market reform, flexibility and regulation, and consumer behaviour.

Defying calls from an increasingly vocal & short-termist Conservative Right, today’s document sees Net Zero reached by 2050 as an enduring necessity, dictated by climate science. The plan’s most optimistic scenario, “Leading the Way” achieves the target in 2046; four years on, 34 megatonnes of CO2 will be sucked out of Britain’s atmosphere. The third, pessimist alternative “Falling Short” in contrast sees nearly 180 megatonnes still contributing in 2050 to the continuing climate catastrophe.

Clearer investment signals are essential for key technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture & utility-scale batteries with capacity beyond 2 hours, the FES argues.

A faster build out of heat pumps and of more hydrogen in gas networks are needed, says the FES.   Improvements are required to sluggish performance of government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme.  A negative emissions market, based on better environmental accounting standards, is called for.

Centralised Strategic Network Planning is emphasised unusually in the 2023 report. Liberated by faster planning approvals, CSNP is essential to delivering better infrastructure, the documents urge. Local communities need a voice in shaping networks, alongside industry, government & regulators.   Strategically sited electrolysers of hydrogen will play a role in serving heavy electricity users.

Demand-side flexibility will be increasingly important. Consumers’ will to participate, says the ESO, was proven by support for its recent Demand Flexibility Service. But the trial can only be a starting point, if the FES’s potential of between 6 and 12 GW is to be achieved by 2040.

Read the NG-ESO’s 2023 Future Energy Scenarios here.


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