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National Grid ESO: Sharing our progress towards zero carbon electricity ahead of COP26

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The next few months ahead of COP26 in November, are crucial for climate action. The world needs to halve emissions over the next decade and reach net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century if we are to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. While targets are important, they must translate into action, and the decarbonisation of power systems can lead the way.

We believe Great Britain’s progress towards decarbonisation of its energy system can offer a blueprint to other countries around the world. In 1990, 65% of the UK’s electricity was produced by burning coal. Fast forward to 2021 and we’re four years away from being able to operate the grid at 100% zero carbon – without using any fossil fuels at all. It’s an exciting time and getting to this position has been a huge team effort from everyone across the entire energy industry.

Our new report charts the story of that period of change in Great Britain. It shows that low carbon grids are achievable and reliable, and you can take an energy system with little renewable generation and transform it into a cleaner and greener system with deliverable plans for zero carbon operation.

On track for zero carbon

It also outlines strong progress towards our zero carbon ambition for Great Britain’s electricity system. In 2019, zero carbon sources outstripped fossil fuelled electricity generation for the first time ever and at 1.30pm on 17 August of that year we saw the highest share of zero carbon power ever seen at 85.1% (wind 39%, solar 25%, nuclear 20% and hydro 1%). Wednesday 12 February 2020 saw the highest ever output from zero carbon generators– 28.8GW – enough to power 10 million homes for a week.

There’s no doubt there are still significant challenges ahead but although zero carbon electricity may only be for short periods at first, similar to the first periods of coal free operation in 2017, it will still be a significant milestone on the road to net zero.

We need to ensure the system is flexible and resilient to the challenges that decarbonisation brings. We’ve been planning, investing and working with industry for years to introduce new technologies and are partnering with innovators, running pathfinder projects and modelling future energy scenarios as we strive towards our 2025 goal.

More to do to accelerate change

But, importantly, as an industry we need to educate consumers before we can expect them to act. Our app shows people the greenest times of day to use electricity and helps them see real time information on how our electricity is being produced. Real time data is a simple way to educate and empower consumers. This, coupled with new automated technologies, can help them be flexible with their electricity use, they can make more environmentally friendly choices and save money too.

We look forward to the opportunity that COP26 brings, both for National Grid as a principal partner and for the ESO, to share this story with countries and other system operators around the world. Electricity systems are at the forefront of the energy transition, and stakeholders from right across the industry have an opportunity – and an obligation – to accelerate change on a global basis and move quicker towards low carbon grids all over the world.

Julian Leslie's photo

Julian Leslie Head of national control, National Grid ESO

Julian Leslie is head of national control at National Grid ESO.


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