High voltage grid connections: Achieving net zero emissions

Nov 24, 2023Net Zero

High voltage solar panels with a blue sky above

While many are perturbed by the Conservative party’s recent move to delay and defer several net zero policies, the UK is still aiming to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Whether it happens remains to be seen, but in order to achieve this, the UK must focus on high voltage grid connections, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, while offsetting any remaining emissions through carbon removal technologies.

As part of this, the significance of high-voltage grid connections has become increasingly evident. These vital links serve as the backbone of the nation’s renewable energy transition, enabling the integration of clean energy sources into the national grid and paving the way for a sustainable energy future.

High-voltage grid connections act as the conduits that transport electricity generated from renewable sources, such as solar and wind farms, often located in remote areas, to population centres where demand is high. Without these robust connections, the vast potential of renewable energy would remain untapped, hindering the UK’s progress towards its net zero goals.

Renewable energy sources are intermittent, meaning that they do not generate electricity continuously. This can make it challenging to integrate them into the electricity grid, which is designed to operate on a continuous basis. The expansion and reinforcement of high-voltage grid infrastructure is essential to accommodate the growing share of renewable energy in the UK’s energy mix. As more solar farms, wind farms, and other renewable installations come online, the grid must be capable of handling the increased power flows and ensuring a reliable and resilient energy supply.

High-voltage grid connections facilitate the integration of renewable energy

High-voltage grid connections play a critical role in overcoming this challenge. They operate at voltages much higher than those used in the distribution grid. This allows them to transmit large amounts of electricity over long distances with minimal energy losses.

High-voltage grid connections are also equipped with sophisticated controls that allow grid operators to manage the flow of electricity efficiently and reliably. This is particularly important for integrating intermittent renewable energy sources, as it allows grid operators to balance fluctuations in power generation and demand.

In addition to facilitating the integration of renewable energy, high-voltage grid connections also contribute to reducing carbon emissions. By enabling the displacement of fossil fuel-based power plants with clean energy sources, these connections play a direct role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change.

The benefits of high-voltage grid connections

High-voltage grid connections offer several benefits for the UK, including:

Enabling offshore wind integration: The UK boasts a vast offshore wind potential and high-voltage grid connections are crucial for integrating this abundant source of clean energy into the national grid. By connecting offshore wind farms to the mainland, these connections enable the transmission of large amounts of renewable electricity to consumers, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy.

Facilitating distributed generation: High-voltage grid connections also play a key role in facilitating distributed generation, where smaller-scale renewable energy sources, such as rooftop solar panels, are connected to the grid. These connections allow for localised power generation, reducing transmission losses and enhancing grid resilience.

Supporting smart grid technologies: The integration of smart grid technologies, such as advanced sensors and communication systems, relies on high-voltage grid connections to transmit real-time data and enable intelligent grid management. These technologies optimise energy distribution, improve grid efficiency, and facilitate the integration of distributed renewable energy sources.

Reduced reliance on fossil fuels: High-voltage grid connections reduce the need for fossil fuel-based power plants. This helps to improve energy security and reduce the UK’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Improved grid stability: High-voltage grid connections help to improve grid stability and reliability. This is particularly important for integrating intermittent renewable energy sources.

Economic benefits: High-voltage grid connections create jobs and stimulate economic growth. They also lead to savings on energy imports, further boosting the economy.

The UK government’s plans for HV grid investment

The UK government has recognised the critical role of high-voltage grid connections in achieving its net zero target. The government has committed to investing £40 billion in grid infrastructure over the next decade. This investment will support the development of new high-voltage transmission lines, the upgrading of existing infrastructure, and the deployment of innovative grid technologies.

The government’s plans for high-voltage grid investment are outlined in the Energy White Paper, which was published in 2020. The White Paper sets out the government’s vision for a clean, green, and secure energy system for the UK.

Examples of renewable HV grid projects in the UK

Several high-voltage grid projects are currently underway or planned for the UK. Some examples include:

East Anglia GREEN: This project is developing a new high-voltage transmission line that will connect offshore wind farms in the East Anglia region to the national grid. The project is expected to be completed in 2031.

North Farm, Heysham: This is a 50MW facility located near Morecambe, Lancashire in the North West of England that Utilligence provided connection services for. Owned and operated by EDF Renewables, it is one of the largest battery storage assets in the UK. The lithium-ion battery site has the capacity to power up to 50,000 homes for short periods during peak times of electricity demand. North Farm Heysham commenced operations in November 2020 and provides vital grid balancing services, stores excess renewable energy, and reinforces this section of the power network. Battery storage schemes like North Farm provide essential flexibility to overcome intermittency from renewable sources.

Western Link: This new undersea high-voltage transmission line connects renewable energy generators in Scotland to the national grid. The project was completed in 2019.

Mallard Pass Solar Farm: The Mallard Pass solar farm is a proposed 350MW photovoltaic power station planned for construction in the East of England – one of the UKs largest solar projects. It is designed to cover approximately 900 hectares, and deliver an annual generation of 270,000 MWh. Mallard Pass has the potential to meet the electricity needs of over 75,000 British households and offset 139,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Final planning permissions are set to be granted in 2024, and the farm’s construction will support hundreds of local jobs. Mega-scale schemes like this are critical to transition from fossil fuels to homegrown, low-carbon renewables. Utilligence advised and developed the initial design and will also develop the detailed design once planning is granted.

HVDC Eastern Green Link 2: This project is developing a new high-voltage transmission line that will connect the electricity grids of Scotland and England. The project is expected to be completed in 2029.

The investment in grid infrastructure development will help the UK accelerate its transition to a low-carbon economy and has the potential to secure a clean, reliable, and affordable energy supply for generations to come.