COP26, which brings together world leaders to commit to urgent global climate action, is fast approaching and National Grid is one of the principal partners for the November event. How does the ESO fit into it all? As the ESO publishes it’s COP26 Road to Zero Carbon report, Fintan Slye, Executive Director of National Grid ESO, shares his thoughts.
If the country is going to meet its target of Net Zero emissions by 2050, we, as Great Britain’s Electricity System Operator, must deliver on our side of things.
It’s our ambition to operate a zero carbon system by 2025 - if the market provides us purely with electricity generated from zero-carbon sources, we will run the system without needing to use any extra services that emit carbon. So Britain’s electricity will be carbon free.
That gives us just four years to prepare the system to operate using only renewable energy. So, what are the challenges to reaching this goal and how are we addressing them?
Our electricity system has changed big time
The carbon intensity – the measure of CO2 emissions produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed – of our country’s electricity system has reduced by over 65% in less than ten years.
It's dropped from an average 529 gCO2/kWh in 2013, to 181 gCO2/kWh in 2020, which is great progress.
In the last five years we've moved from heavy reliance on coal to a record breaking year for green electricity in 2020. We saw our longest ever GB coal-free period between Apr 10 – June 16 2020.
We also saw the lowest single point (half hour) of carbon intensity on Easter Monday this year. The growth and performance of renewables is transforming our system at an astonishing rate and our challenge, as a system operator, is making sure we're set up to handle it all.
Transforming our system
We need to ensure the system is flexible and resilient to the challenges that decarbonisation brings so we are partnering with innovators, running pathfinder projects and modelling future energy scenarios as we strive towards our 2025 goal. We’ve been planning, investing and working with industry for years to introduce new technologies and more intelligent ways of using energy.
We’re also trying to make our data more accessible so people can use it to make greener choices about when to use their electricity. The ESO’s free app, which shows the cleanest time to use power, is growing in popularity and the data is driving the live dashboard on Sky News' Daily Climate Show and National Grid's COP26 green light bulb campaign.
It’s not just a British thing
I was recently invited to speak alongside the US and UK energy secretaries, Jennifer Granholm and Kwasi Kwarteng at the launch of the Global Power System Transformation (G-PST) consortium. This initiative brings together expertise from across the globe to harness the potential of clean energy and look at the challenges ahead.
I’m extremely proud that together with AEMO from Australia, Energinet from Denmark, EirGrid from Ireland and CAISO from the US we are exploring ways to integrate more and more renewable energy into the world’s power systems and ultimately produce cleaner energy for all.
A carbon neutral ESO
As an organisation we can be greener too. By 2030 I would like us to be a carbon neutral organisation. We’ll be actively measuring our carbon impact and offsetting our footprint with activities like planting carbon-absorbing trees. We are also working towards an electric-only fleet of vehicles whilst investing in our sites and driving buildings emissions down.
In two years we have reduced our carbon footprint by over 50% to 1,816 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) - which roughly equates to the electricity 299 homes would use in a year. However, some of this is due to the Covid pandemic and we still have a long way to go to reach carbon neutral.
I’m looking forward to developing with our partners a cleaner, greener power system. And COP26, which looms large, should result in action being taken on a global scale that sees us make meaningful progress in the fight against climate change. We have an exciting journey ahead of us.
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).