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Net Zero Target

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to move to a net zero emissions economy by 2045, while the UK government has made the same commitment by 2050. These are legally-binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a timescale in line with the global warming target set out in the Paris Agreement. Climate scientists are clear that reducing carbon emissions is not enough – in order to halt climate change they need to fall to zero by around mid-century.

In the last 30 years, greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland have been halved and across the UK are estimated to be 43.1% lower, largely as a result of the decarbonisation of our electricity supply. However, efforts to decarbonise sectors such as transport, heat, farming & land use, and industry are a more difficult proposition because they will rely on significantly more behavioural and societal change. A 2019 report for the Committee on Climate Change asserted that "high-impact shifts in consumer behaviours and choices are needed that are consistent with the scale of the climate challenge".

 

The Energy Landscape and How it is Changing

The way the grid operates is changing. The companies which own and operate the various parts of the grid are ‘regulated monopolies’. As they do not compete to run the grid, the level of profit they make (and which they can pay to their shareholders) along with the costs they charge for use of the networks are regulated by OFGEM – the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets. Generators are charged for the use of the network through ‘Use of System’ charges, which also form part of all our electricity bills.

The manner in which the grid networks operate is set to change significantly in the coming decade and this is likely to create new opportunities for community energy projects. According to OFGEM’s Decarbonisation Programme Action Plan:

"To achieve net zero will require a huge increase in renewable and low carbon electricity, especially to meet new sources of demand such as electric vehicles"

Although offshore wind farms are seen as an important source of additional renewable energy, more onshore renewables will also be required. These will need to be developed in a way which is integrated with an electricity grid which operates in a much smarter way than is currently the case. ‘Smarter’ in this case means more capable of directly linking supply of electricity to actual demand in real time. For this to be possible, some power generation as well as some demand for power will have to be capable of being switched on and off rapidly i.e. in a flexible way.

 

Moving to a more flexible Grid

OFGEM intends to drive the development of a more flexible system through reforms to the rules which govern grid access, charging for the use of the grid system and moving to a payment system where everyone’s bills are calculated on a half-hourly basis. Also, it is encouraging the energy networks to tender for ‘flexibility services’ such as switching on and off demand (‘demand side management’), in return for a fee.

This is already beginning to happen with the roll out of smart meters, ‘time of use’ tariffs which more accurately reflect the variation in electricity price over a 24-hour period and developments in ‘Active Network Management’, such as SPEN’s Integrated Network Management Project in Dumfries

 
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