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ScottishPower is planning major investment in the UK’s electricity grid in support of the country’s net zero ambitions

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Some £5.4bn is to be invested in the UK electricity grid by ScottishPower, in the company’s ‘biggest issued contract opportunity in green energy infrastructure and green jobs ever’.

With electricity demand forecast to double in the next 10 years, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the UK needs more than 600,000 km of new or upgraded electricity lines to meet its needs. In response, ScottishPower grid business SP Energy Networks is encouraging companies with the skills and experience to bid for £5.4bn worth of contracts to design, develop and upgrade new and existing strategic transmission infrastructure in support of the UK’s net zero ambitions.

 

Keith Anderson, ScottishPower CEO, says: ‘We’re kickstarting the largest overhaul of the [UK] grid since its inception. Our investment plans will help grow our electricity networks, grow our workforce and will provide a massive opportunity for the supply chain whilst unlocking growth for the wider economy. It is vital we get serious about getting on with the job of consenting and getting this new grid built so that we can take advantage of clean green renewables, transport it around the country and lock in our energy security and maintain the UK’s track record in leading on decarbonisation.’

 

Work will include new high voltage substations and overhead line construction, as well as design, engineering, construction and electrical works.

 

The £5.4bn worth of contracts will cover the next 10 years and includes transmission projects across central and southern Scotland. It will help move more green energy across the country to help deliver a low-carbon future, connecting 80–85 GW of clean renewable energy to the UK transmission system and reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, claims ScottishPower.

 

In November last year, the UK government announced plans to halve the time it takes to build high voltage power lines and cut the time it takes to connect to the grid in a bid to support economic growth and accelerate renewables investment.

 

ScottishPower’s announcement is timely, as a new report from AtkinsRéalis suggests that the UK is not building new energy capacity at the rate required to decarbonise the grid by 2035.

 

According to the Countdown to 2035: Can we meet net zero energy system targets? report, a total of 187 GW of new capacity needs to be built, for a total energy system of 260 GW, to meet the 2035 target. This equates to 15.5 GW of new capacity per year. However, the report says that it is ‘extremely unlikely that the UK will more than triple the amount of new capacity connected to the system in one year’ and ‘a more gradual increase is the most likely scenario’. To put this in context, the UK added just 4.5 GW to the grid in 2022, while the annual record for new capacity additions was 6.5 GW, set back in 2017.  

 

The study shows that if the UK achieved a 15% increase in new generating capacity connected to the grid each year, the peak build rate would be 25 GW/y by 2035; roughly five times the rate achieved in 2022. If the build rate increased by just 10%, the required peak build rate by 2035 would be 40 GW, nine times the current rate.

 

Noting that ‘each year the scale of challenge becomes greater’, the report stresses the need to move from ‘scenarios that are theoretically feasible’ to a ‘laser-like focus on the task of delivery – ramping up the build rate and removing obstacles to bring forward new generating capacity to remain on track for net zero’.

 

The report also highlights the implications of delays in adding new low-carbon generation to the grid, noting that if the UK doesn’t deliver more renewables, specifically offshore wind or nuclear, then the country’s energy capacity ‘may not be sufficient to operate without unabated gas’, and the impact that could have on both grid carbon intensity and the investment required to extend the operational life of the UK’s fleet of gas-powered plants. The report also notes that long-term energy storage will also have a key role to play on the road to net zero.