With an ageing grid causing concern within the renewables sector, the Net Zero Technology Centre believes the time has come for energy providers to modernise vital infrastructure and make it fit for the green transition

THERE'S no doubt that the UK is accelerating the growth of its green economy, with the recently published British Energy Security Strategy raising ambitions for the delivery of renewable and clean energy technologies. 

Yet, although it is fair to assume industry confidence is high and the transition is proceeding at full pace, there are a number of issues surrounding cost, infrastructure and investment weighing heavily on the sector. 

Whilst none of these problems  are insurmountable, they are all closely interlinked and there is no denying the pace of turning intention into action needs hastening.

A recent industry survey conducted by Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC), who accelerate real-world development and deployment of ground-breaking technologies for an affordable net zero energy industry, has captured the opinion of those at the heart of the renewables sector.

HeraldScotland:

WHAT’S HOLDING THE ENERGY TRANSITION BACK?
WHEN asked what they believed were the main issues impacting the pace of the energy transition were,  more than 38% of respondents ranked outdated infrastructure as the key concern. 

“It is no surprise that outdated infrastructure is front of mind,” says Mary Thorogood, Government Relations, External Affairs and Communications Director at the Net Zero Technology Centre. “Our electricity grids are not fit for a flexible and renewable future. 

“The ageing infrastructure was built at a time when multiple energy sources weren’t connected to the transmission grid and demand was located nearer to our cheapest forms of power.

“To enable delivery of net zero by 2050, there must be interconnectivity between different energy vectors and the ability to bring cheap power to where it is needed.

To achieve this, investment is needed today to upgrade existing infrastructure.”

Despite hailing its British Energy Security Strategy as the plan to realise the UK’s vision of Net Zero by 2050 with a clean electricity system by 2035, 22% of those surveyed raised concerns about a lack of delivery plan. 

A fifth of respondents felt cost was the main issue slowing the pace of the transition, while only 13% cited lack of policy as an issue; this could be thanks in part to the numerous policy announcements made by governments in the run up to, and during COP26.

Thorogood continues: “Whilst low carbon investment needs to increase by around five times what we see today, the total cost of net zero is estimated to be below 1% of UK GDP over the next 30 years.  But the benefits of investing for net zero far outweigh the up front cost – for our economy, the cost of energy and our planet. And investors are ready today.”  

In its World Energy Outlook 2021 report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests the annual investment needed in clean energy projects and infrastructure is to the tune of nearly $4 trillion by 2030.

HeraldScotland:

AN ENERGY MIX FIT FOR THE FUTURE
THE UK’s population is predicted to grow by 3.9million (5.8%) according to the Office for National Statistics.

Future electricity demand will increase as we move to a clean power grid with increasing numbers of electric vehicles and heat pumps on the roads and in our homes.  

Meeting future energy demand whilst abiding by climate change strategies takes a paradigm shift and transformation of the UK’s energy system as we move from fossil-based to renewable energy.

“Our future energy mix is an interdependent and clean mix that will ensure secure, reliable and cheaper energy supply,” states Thorogood. 

“There is no single panacea. An integrated energy vision for Scotland and the UK requires thinking about the different forms of power generation together.” 

Survey respondents ranked wind (35%), green hydrogen (18%) and electrification (13%) as most important for an optimum energy mix, whilst solar and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) were viewed as least important. "Offshore wind is a hot topic right now and rightfully so,” Thorogood continues.

“The British Energy Security Strategy sets a new ambition to boost offshore wind. It steps up the proposed pace of delivery from 40 gigawatts to 50 by 2030. Significantly, some five gigawatts of this will come from floating offshore platforms. A clean power system by 2035 will have offshore wind at its heart.

“Floating wind allows turbines to be located further away from the shore, where the water is deeper and where the wind blows more, creating more potential for power generation not to mention an opportunity for the UK and Scottish supply chain and people.”

Scotland’s green economy was given a boost earlier this year when Crown Estate Scotland announced the award of seabed licenses to 17 projects totalling 25GW following its ScotWind offshore wind leasing round. 

This will see windfarms being developed across 14 lease areas around the Scottish coast, providing not only clean energy supply and security but significant benefit to the Scottish economy. 

Net Zero & Energy Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson has credited the ScotWind licencing round with the potential of “harnessing existing talent and expertise and creating and delivering good, green jobs across Scotland’s supply chain”.

Whilst welcome news, there are hurdles to overcome before these projects move to design and development. These include grid connection, consenting, supply chain availability, securing subsidies and the perennial issue of investment, the latter of which was raised by quarter (25%) of survey respondents as one of the perceived biggest challenges facing delivery of Scotwind.

Hydrogen was selected second to wind in terms of what the UK needs for an optimum energy mix. 

Notably, green hydrogen, which is produced entirely from renewable electricity, is acknowledged as the ultimate prize. 

Thorogood sees significant potential for Scotland in this market: “Hydrogen will enable decarbonisation across multiple sectors. Scotland plans to have sufficient power generated from offshore wind to build capacity to create green hydrogen, and the country can leverage the expertise it has built up in oil and gas to open up opportunities in this new energy market.” 

HeraldScotland:

Mary Thorogood, Government Relations, External Affairs and Communications Director at the Net Zero Technology Centre

Half of survey respondents selected transitioning the UK’s oil and gas supply chain as the biggest opportunity for hydrogen, with a quarter believing it provided an opportunity to build UK manufacturing capabilities. 

“We must not forget we’re in a transition,” echoed Thorogood. “Supply chain sales in oil and gas contribute tens of billions to the Scottish economy. As we transition away from fossil fuels we must secure those jobs, create new ones and build a thriving hydrogen supply chain. Scotland undoubtedly has the potential to become a leading producer and exporter of clean hydrogen.”

ADAPTING AND ADOPTING FOR THE FUTURE
DEVELOPING and deploying technology is driven by innovation, investment, and collaboration, yet technology adoption can be hindered by economic, policy, and societal complexities. 

The survey revealed cost (35%) as the biggest barrier to adopting clean energy technologies, followed by legislation/regulation (26%). This is often cited as a barrier due to the impact on time that regulation and process has from award of licence to actual build and the further approval needed from various bodies on disruptive innovations.

New clean energy technologies will power the transition, however the maturity of these technologies raised concern with 18% of respondents placing technology readiness level (TRL) as a key barrier to adoption. 

“Scaling nascent technologies can be chicken and egg,” Thorogood concludes.

“Upfront investment, demonstrator projects, and wider industry adoption will drive down cost. 

“Whilst renewable energy capital costs have fallen significantly over the last 20 years, the costs of developing technology and building infrastructure can still be prohibitive. New technologies and start-ups must demonstrate viability and scale. 

“The investments that will be made following the ScotWind and INTOG leasing rounds will help reduce costs, but further investment is required to continue that journey and secure the opportunity for Scotland’s supply chain. 

“We need to drive technology down the cost reduction curve and provide an actionable roadmap to ensure floating offshore wind powered green hydrogen is a cost-effective solution in the energy transition. We have seen this happen with fixed wind and oil and gas. Floating wind and green hydrogen are no different.”

Founded in 2017, the Net Zero Technology Centre was created as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal, with £180m of UK and Scottish government funding to maximise the potential of the North Sea. To date the Centre has co-invested £211 million in technologies which have the potential to generate £10-£15 billion GVA potential for the UK economy, screened over 1,560 technologies, completed or progressed 168 field trials, commercialised over 29 technologies and supported 45 tech start-ups. More than 100 industry experts were surveyed at NZTC’s exhibition stand during the All Energy Conference in Glasgow (11-12th May 2022). Responses were anonymous.