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LONDON — The UK power grid is simply not ready for the switch to clean energy.
That’s the stark finding of a year-long government-commissioned review published on Friday, which warns that the country’s existing energy policies are “seriously out of date” as a crucial deadline for decarbonisation looms and Britain envision a future of electric cars at every driveway and heat. bombs in every home.
Gaining buy-in for the major changes needed will be a mammoth task, he warns, and could even require cash payments to a skeptical British public on pylons.
Despite recent anti-green noises, the British government has strict net-zero emissions targets, including an interim goal to decarbonise its electricity grid by 2035.
The overhaul and expansion of the electricity grid – the swaths of cables and pylons that span the UK – will be critical in determining whether or not the government achieves those lofty targets.
In his long-awaited report, Nick Winser, the government’s power grid czar, warns that tens of billions of pounds of new grid infrastructure will be needed by 2030 to meet the country’s climate targets. That is not an easy task.
National Grid, which oversees Britain’s grid, estimates that five times as many high-voltage transmission lines, suspended from pylons or buried underground, will need to be installed by 2030 than have been built in the past three decades combined.
This additional infrastructure may require an investment of £54 billion, according to forecasts.
Grid capacity will need to expand in the coming years to meet increased electricity consumption as more people use electric vehicles and electric heating in their homes. The grid must also be rewired to accommodate more of the UK’s electricity coming from offshore wind farms rather than inland gas-fired power stations.
Winser’s report finds it will be “very difficult” for the UK government to meet its 2035 deadline without building faster, and suggests a suggestion to speed up delivery.
People who live near new pylons and other net-zero infrastructure should, he argues, receive cash compensation. She proposes a mix of “lump sums” paid to households near new pylons and locally managed community funds spent on decarbonisation schemes.
Existing grid projects have sparked fierce opposition in many parts of the UK, while estate agents have said proximity to power lines may affect house prices.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Grant Shapps, who is expected to back the findings, Winser cautions that Britain lacks a clear strategic plan for the future of its grid, asking if, without it: “Is it so surprising that such alarm, excitement and What controversy do the schemes arouse?
Speaking ahead of the report’s release, Winser did not give a figure on the compensation households could receive.
But he noted that it can be 10 times cheaper to build an overhead transmission line than to bury the cables underground, arguing that part of the difference in cost could go to “handsomely” compensate the local population.
Winser is calling for the creation of a new government-backed “Strategic Energy Plan for Britain” to help forecast likely locations of electricity supply and demand and establish where power lines are actually needed.
He argues that this could unlock investment in infrastructure before the actual need for electricity, while making it clear to planning authorities, and local communities, that the projects have full political and regulatory support.
But a national public information campaign is also required to expose the changes ahead and explain the link to net zero, he warns.
The stakes could hardly be higher. The then chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, John Gummer, tasked with scrutinizing Britain’s climate plans, told POLITICO earlier this year that if the UK has any hope of delivering on its big promises, “we have to face up to three words. It’s not education, education, education… It’s grid, grid, grid’”.
Abby Wallace contributed reporting.