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Unlocking Net Zero through the UK’s energy networks

In the year the UK hosts the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, find out how our energy networks are unlocking Net Zero possibilities for the UK.

Glasgow, Scotland
Credit: Unsplash/Artur Kraft

Unlocking Net Zero

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and the energy networks are playing a vital role in delivering the UK's 2050 and 2045 net-zero emissions targets.

Private enterprise has already made the UK a world-leader in connecting smarter, cleaner and reliable renewable energy sources. We need to build on these innovations with stable, long-term investment, as quickly as possible, to reach net-zero emissions.

What is ‘net zero’?

The UK Government has set a target for our country to reach net-zero emissions emissions by the year 2050, with the Scottish Government committing to 2045. This means that any greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity must be balanced out by reducing those emissions and removing them from the atmosphere.

How are the energy networks helping us reach net zero?

Britain’s energy networks have a leading role to play, by connecting greater levels of renewable energy and providing the infrastructure and technology we need to cut carbon emissions in areas such as heat and transport. We're doing this through the likes of our Open Networks and Gas Goes Green projects.

We can’t risk any disruption or delay

The UK economy will need to spend between 1-2% of its total wealth each year to reach net-zero emissions on time. This means significant long-term, stable and sustained investment, without delay or disruption, to ensure the safe keeping of our environment.

Reaching every single community in the UK, the energy networks are at the heart of unlocking our country's Net Zero potential. This will create jobs, reduce emissions and secure a green future.

We are delivering the Prime Minister's Ten Point Plan

The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for climate action was the most significant policy intervention for the energy industry in a decade, and the UK’s energy networks are the foundation on which it is delivered.

  • Offshore wind

    Prime Minister's commitment

    Producing enough offshore wind to power every home, quadrupling how much we produce to 40GW by 2030, supporting up to 60,000 jobs.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    Electricity transmission network operators are already exploring the consolidation of offshore connections to minimise disruption onshore and exciting work is underway on hybrid interconnectors, making networks smarter, and projects to use excess wind to produce hydrogen.

  • Hydrogen

    Prime Minister's plan

    Working with industry aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    The UK’s network operators have helped keep the UK at the top of the global race for hydrogen and this needs to continue. Exciting green innovation projects have been taking place such as H100 – the creation of the UK’s first hydrogen town, Hydeploy, HyNet, H21 and many others. A hydrogen bonanza will help support a green economic recovery, create jobs and slash carbon emissions all whilst ensuring the UK remains a world leader in green industrial strategy.

  • Nuclear

    Prime Minister's plan

    Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    More nuclear energy can help to provide stability to the electricity system – the transmission network operators are building the connections for new nuclear projects whilst also making the most of existing infrastructure.

  • Electric vehicles (EVs)

    Prime Minister's plan

    Backing our world-leading car manufacturing bases including in the West Midlands, North East and North Wales to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles (EVs).

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    The electricity network operators have a key role to play in supporting infrastructure an innovation for a mass roll-out of electric vehicles. Ground-breaking pilot projects are underway for vehicle-to-grid smart charging as well as further digitalisation of the connections process. The networks have developed clear guidance for anyone looking to invest in their own electric vehicle, whether an individual customer or a fleet-operating business.

  • Public transport, cycling and walking

    Prime Minister's plan

    Making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investing in zero-emission public transport of the future.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    Network operators already support electric and hydrogen buses and will continue to as we accelerate on the Road to Zero. The network operators will support more hydrogen and further electrification of public transport in all its forms including trains powered by hydrogen.

  • Jet Zero and greener maritime

    Prime Minister's plan

    Supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    Green innovation is already under way to see how hydrogen and further electrification can be used in shipping and aviation.

  • Homes and public buildings

    Prime Minister's plan

    Making our homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, whilst creating 50,000 jobs by 2030, and a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    We are already seeing innovation lead to greener homes and this is set to continue as more heat pumps are installed and hydrogen-ready boilers come to market. Network operators have exciting trial projects that will help this develop safely, speedily and at least cost to the consumer.

  • Carbon capture

    Prime Minister's plan

    Becoming a world-leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10MT of carbon dioxide by 2030, equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber today.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    Blue hydrogen is forecast to have a clear and important role within the UK’s mix, so carbon capture will be critical. Gas network operators’ green innovation projects like HyNet show the opportunities that blending can offer in driving the growth of this industry of the future.

  • Nature

    Prime Minister's plan

    Protecting and restoring our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, whilst creating and retaining thousands of jobs.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    As well as undergrounding cables in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, network operators are reducing their own business carbon footprint, and undertaking rewilding and afforestation projects across the UK. The networks also work to ensure that the trees around our pylons and infrastructure are well looked after and are spearheading efforts to minimise the continued spread of Ash die-back.

  • Innovation and finance

    Prime Ministers plan

    Developing the cutting-edge technologies needed to reach these new energy ambitions and make the City of London the global centre of green finance.

    What the UK's energy networks are doing

    The UK has always been able to attract investment to the green economy. The networks have invested more than £100bn since 1990 and this is set to continue over the coming years, providing the regulatory system matches policy ambition. Network operators have supported both world-leading flexibility markets and hydrogen innovation and are now readying the country for the seismic shift to fully decarbonised heat, transport and power.

"Our green industrial revolution will be powered by the wind turbines of Scotland and the North East, propelled by the electric vehicles made in the Midlands and advanced by the latest technologies developed in Wales, so we can look ahead to a more prosperous, greener future."

Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister

We are unlocking Net Zero across the country

  • Truro, England

    In Truro Western Power Distribution have replaced two 132/33kV transformers, bringing on 30MW extra capacity for demand and for generation.

    Reflecting a £2m investment there are a multitude of uses for this new capacity. The area has abundant existing and proposed solar resources as well as a proposed garden village where a number of low carbon technologies are being considered.

  • Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells, Wales

    Western Power Distribution are making multiple 11kV network investments through new cabling and substations, representing a £1million investment in Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells.

    While not solely intended for electric vehicle charge points, there has been a strong interest in establishing charge points in this area, catering to the rural tourist areas between Brecon Beacons National Park and Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which over four million people visit per year.

  • Gloucester M4 Services, England

    At the Gloucester services on the M4, Western Power Distribution are to build a 11kV network extension via two new cables from Tuffley 33/11kV substation towards Gloucester Services.

    This allows for an increase of 8MW in demand and 6W in generation. Representing a £1.6m investment this facilitates charging points for electric vehicles along this major, arterial road.

    Crucially, a spare duct can be laid for future growth and cables will be laid rated at 33kV for efficiencies in future as growth increases – effectively futureproofing the project for the further growth anticipated in the area.

  • East Croft, Nottingham, England

    Nottingham City Council aim to transform the area into the first carbon neutral city by 2028. With that in mind, Nottingham is a known growth area with significant plans for low carbon technology growth in the coming years whilst also handling existing network constraints.

    To mitigate this, Western Power Distribution are investing £3.5m in a new 33/11kV substation in the city centre. This investment will directly enable 24MW of extra capacity for demand and 18MW extra capacity for generation.

  • St Cuthbert’s Garden Village, England

    St Cuthbert’s Garden Village is located to the south of the City of Carlisle and has secured over £110m of funding from the Government for its development including the promotion of sustainable energy use and the development of renewable energy resources, where feasible.

    Electricity North West propose to use the replacement of the overhead lines to uprate the circuits in the area and meet the developments needs for an additional 8.5MW of electrical capacity.

    As well as installing a higher capacity replacement circuit, Electricity North West plan to install ducts to futureproof the development, enabling future cables to be easily installed, providing the potential for even more capacity.

  • Windermere, England

    Cumbria County Council’s Carbon Management Strategy aims for the county to become “carbon neutral” by 2037. Decarbonisation of transport plans include tourist activity which will ensure electric vehicle charging facilities at major tourist carparks and the replacement of the existing aging diesel Windermere ferry with a new environmentally friendly electric ferry.

    To accommodate these new low carbon connections in the Windermere lakeside area, Electricity North West plans to invest approximately £700k to install 4km of 11k cable to enhance the network capacity there before 2022. A further investment of up to £1m is planned to strengthen the upstream 33kV network to ensure the security of this new capacity.

  • Mynydd Llandygai, Wales

    SP Energy Networks is working with a community in North West Wales to unlock capacity on the existing network to faciliate the installation of a hydro generator in the village of Mynydd Llandygai, near Bethesda.

    The project has already secured the necessary planning permission from Gwynedd County Council and gained the appropriate licences from Natural Resources Wales to extract water from the Afon Galedffrwd river.

  • Runcorn, England

    SP Energy Networks is to construct two new substations which will kickstart the Runcorn Station Quarter regeneration project.

    Community leaders have signalled their ambition to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the area and this investment in the local network will make that a reality.

    Making the station area compatible with the increased use of both private and public service electric vehicles, such as taxis, will transform it into a modern gateway that welcomes visitors, improves transport connections, and encourages development opportunities for new business, leisure and housing.

    The Runcorn Station Quarter is part of the overall vision for the area and forms part of the £1bn Mersey Gateway Regeneration Plus Plan, which is one of North West England’s most exciting and varied regeneration opportunities.

  • Glasgow, Scotland

    A new substation constructed by SP Energy Networks will provide a lasting COP26 legacy by creating capacity to facilitate future green developments and the connection of low carbon technologies.

    This project will see the installation and commissioning of a new substation on land close to the COP26 venue in Glasgow by the end of 2023.

    The hosting of COP26 at the SEC in November this year requires additional network capacity to ensure security and reliability of electricity supply during the event. Phase one of the project will ensure that this additional demand can be supported by new circuits operated from an existing nearby substation.

    However, a new substation will be required to ensure the new equipment from phase one and the additional capacity it creates can be utilised to its full potential in 2022 and beyond. The benefits will extend beyond the immediate reach of the proposed new substation by releasing capacity at adjacent sites.

  • Wheatley, England

    An Oxfordshire village, and critical local infrastructure, is set to benefit from a £3.9m investment to support the transition to net zero.

    Low carbon technologies (LCTs), including electric vehicles (EVs) and heat pumps, are forecast to rapidly increase within Wheatley and across the UK. As part of the Green Recovery programme SSEN will reinforce 10km of overhead line and 1km of underground cable serving the village and motorway service area.

    The 24-month project will unlock 14MW of additional capacity, enabling residents of Wheatley and the surrounding area to make the switch to LCTs and create the potential for additional EV charging at Oxford Motorway Service Area. 

    The Oxford Motorway Service Area is in an important location for the UK’s road network. Having a network of strategically placed EV charging facilities will be key to ensuring infrastructure is ready for EV growth, helping facilitate longer journeys for EVs and growing confidence in the sector. This investment will support delivery of local and national LCT ambitions, accelerating the UK and Wheatley towards a green recovery.

  • Orkney Islands, Scotland

    One of the investment programmes supported by the green recovery scheme is a £2.7m upgrade to the network near Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. Primary substation infrastructure and 16km of overhead power lines will be upgraded, creating 7.3MW of additional network capacity. 

    Alongside enabling additional capacity to accommodate predicted demand for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and electrification of heat in the area, this strategic investment will support the development of the UK’s first low carbon, operationally based aviation test centre at Kirkwall Airport.

    The project will support the pioneering Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project led by Highlands and Islands Airport Limited (HIAL), whose ambition is for all 11 of its airports to be carbon-neutral and help create the world’s first net-zero aviation region in the Highlands and Islands.

    With Kirkwall Airport as an ideal test location due to the variety of short routes connecting Orkney’s island communities, the SATE project will trial aircraft powered by electricity, hydrogen or Sustainable Aviation Fuels, as well as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle)/ “drones”.

    The project is expected to make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions at Kirkwall Airport (c. 2,550 tCO2e) and provide a blueprint for net zero Regional Airport operations.

  • Grimsby and Immingham, England

    The Humber is rapidly becoming a major centre of the UK’s green industries, with the Siemens offshore wind turbine factory, Drax’s biomass facilities and major plans to become a hydrogen cluster.

    Directly enabling this growth is Northern Powergrid’s investment of £3.5m in an additional 120MW of capacity in Grimsby and Immingham which will enable a range of projects to come forward sooner, including renewable generation, green shipping and hydrogen production. This additional capacity will also enable regeneration of the area around Immingham Port which was recently awarded Freeport status.

  • Alnwick and Belford, England

    Northern Powergrid are also delivering a number of schemes in Alnwick and Belford which will unlock capacity for EV charging on the A1 trunk road that connects England and Scotland.

  • Essex, Norfolk, Sussex and Hertfordshire, England

    Across the East of England UK Power Networks are delivering the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging hubs at more than forty locations. With sites across Essex, Norfolk, Sussex and Hertfordshire, they will go a long way to bringing access to electric vehicles to a wider audience of people.

    Representing £38million in total investment, this new network capacity is the equivalent of approximately 2,700 rapid chargers, directly enabling the current and forecast increase in electric vehicles.

  • Hastings, England

    UK Power Networks is investing £12,000 in Hastings local area capacity. This will allow the local community to build the infrastructure for a new heat pump for a community-run building open to the public directly enabling the transition from gas heating to a greener future.

  • London, England

    Supporting Transport for London and the Mayor of London in their vision to decarbonise the capital UK Power Networks are supporting seven bus garages across Greater London to go electric.

    Representing an investment of £3.9million, this will deliver extra capacity, equivalent to about 1,000 rapid chargers. Tripling the existing electric bus charging provision, this new infrastructure will go a long way to improving air quality for Londoners and visitors to the capital.  

"The UK’s energy network operators have already helped turn the UK into a superpower of renewable energy, we're now supercharging this, taking that decarbonisation further and faster in support of Net Zero emissions."

David Smith, Chief Executive
Energy Networks Association

How we'll get there

  • A superpower of renewable energy

    Private investment has helped make Britain a superpower of renewable energy. Let’s build on that to reach net-zero emissions as quickly as possible.

    Redesigning the way our grids work will enable us to connect even more renewable energy projects, more quickly than ever.

    We are rolling out new, local energy markets that use the latest smart energy technologies in homes and businesses to allow us to make our grids more capable.

    The disruption of implementing state ownership will undermine Britain’s world leading progress in this area – just at the point when the speed of that progress is more critical than ever.

  • The approach to climate change must be local and national

    The decarbonised energy future is as much local as it is national. Our cities, towns and communities need to be on the front-line of fighting climate change.

    Energy networks are part of the fabric of every region in the country – they are regional companies playing a national role. Network companies are already working with communities and local governments to tackle climate change – and we want to explore new ways to work more closely.

    To deliver deeper levels of decarbonisation we will need to make our local energy grids more capable to connect more renewable energy – we are already undertaking that work.

    This will help create new smart energy markets for households, businesses and communities.

  • Private investment will get us to net-zero emissions

    We need private investment in our energy infrastructure to reach our net-zero emissions target as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

    Reaching our net-zero emissions target will require significant long-term, stable and sustained investment from our economy – wherever that money might come from. Britain’s network companies are proven in their ability to successfully deliver risk management, innovation, performance and value for money.

    Significant disruption to the energy networks would delay the urgent progress towards net-zero emissions.

    Taking the energy network companies into public ownership would put Britain’s net-zero emissions target at risk. The money spent nationalising Britain’s energy networks could be spent on investing in new wind farms or nuclear power plants instead.

    State ownership will come at a cost to other important public services, such as healthcare and education.

    Time is running out. Let’s not waste it on scrapping what works and starting again.

  • A relentless focus on innovation

    We need to be relentless in our focus on innovation to deliver net-zero emissions as quickly as possible, and reap the benefits that it can deliver. No-one does that better than private enterprise.

    Private enterprise is key to delivering innovation – in terms of approach to risk management and taking advantage of new technologies to deliver a more capable grid.

    The lessons we’ve learnt from connecting record amounts of renewable energy are vital to connecting the new technologies we need to reach the net-zero emissions target.

  • Delivering results requires investment

    Private investment in our energy infrastructure is vital. Dividends paid out by network companies secure vital long-term, stable and sustained investment.

    The profits that energy networks make support greater investment in our energy infrastructure and are vital if Britain is to meet the challenge of net-zero emissions.

    Dividends have delivered huge levels of investment that have been good for bill payers, good for the environment and good for the country.

    Dividends paid out by network companies benefit us all – from retired coal miners and teachers to families looking to invest their hard-earned cash. Millions of Britons have invested their pensions in British energy networks, contributing to this vital infrastructure while saving for their futures.

    Profits from energy will – and should – be subject to scrutiny, particularly as we continue the debate around how our society and economy carries the cost of reaching net-zero emissions. However, quoting total figures without the context of the investment poured back into the networks, the impact this has already had and its contribution to us meeting our net-zero emissions targets does not provide the full picture.

  • A track record of providing a vital public service

    No person should be left behind by decarbonisation. Britain’s network companies may be private, but they have a great track record of delivering a vital public service.

    Britain’s energy network companies have a universal obligation of service to every man, woman and child in Britain. They are considered to be some of the best in the world in terms of their performance for the public – not just in terms operational performance but in fulfilling their social obligations.

    Because our energy networks are structured around long-term investments, network companies have a vested interest in the long-term future and act responsibly on that basis.

    Investment by networks benefits us all – networks pay returns to pensioners who used to work as teachers, coal miners.