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National Grid: have your say on the UK’s energy future

Electricity pylon against a cloudy sky

As old power stations reach the end of their lives and demand for energy grows, huge investment in infrastructure is needed. John Pettigrew of National Grid explains how local communities can have their say.

Over the next decade, around a fifth of the UK’s current electricity generating capacity will be lost. Some power stations will reach the end of their operating lives or be retired, as they will be unable to meet EU greenhouse gas reduction targets.

At the same time, UK electricity demand is expected to steadily increase as more people drive electric vehicles and use new smart gadgets that are becoming part of everyday life.

With North Sea oil and gas in decline, along with the domestic coal industry, the UK is no longer self-sufficient in energy. We are becoming increasingly dependent on imported fuel supplies.

Investing in energy for the future

This means that new generating capacity and supporting transmission infrastructure must be built on an unprecedented scale. The UK needs to develop a range of low-carbon technologies to help keep the lights on and emissions down. Future power generation will include more renewable sources, such as solar and wind, as well as new nuclear capacity.

To connect these new sources of power, National Grid has embarked on a £30bn investment programme to reinforce and extend our energy infrastructure. Before it can be delivered, there are tough decisions to be taken to balance efficiency and cost-effectiveness with the impact on local communities and the natural environment. Society needs to play its part in helping to decide that balance.

At the National Grid we believe that everyone needs to understand the scale of the energy challenge, so they can participate in the debate about how infrastructure is to be delivered. That’s why we launched Powering Britain’s Future, a nation-wide conversation about some of the unprecedented energy challenges we face in the UK.

Involving local communities in decisions

We have already changed the way we go about planning our projects, with

far-reaching consultations with local communities and special interest groups taking place at all stages. Local views are helping to shape the way projects are delivered, how routes for transmission lines are selected and even where the undergrounding of cables should take place.

A good example of listening to local views is the selection of the route for a 400,000 volt transmission line proposed to run from Bramford in Suffolk to Twinstead Tee in Essex. Four possible options were tabled and only after extensive public consultation was the preferred route selected. This will see cables going underground for eight kilometres – a quarter of the route – through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in the Stour Valley.

Communicating the scale of the UK energy challenge, and how important it is to society, will play an important part in helping us find the right solutions. Only by ensuring that we all understand these challenges can we as a society have a constructive and informed conversation about what we want our energy future to look like.

What could National Grid do to involve you and your local community in conversations about how the energy challenge is met?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from John Pettigrew, chief operating officer of the National Grid. All opinions expressed here are John’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.

Phil says:
16 January 2013

Add increasing electrification of the railways to the list. Something which should’ve been done decades ago.

It’s all very well involving people at local level but we know the outcome; whatever the solution they won’t want it anywhere near them. What’s needed is a clear national energy strategy from central government and apart from a half-hearted, belated commitment to build a handful of nuclear stations there’s been nothing.

We haven’t got time for more talk, ten years isn’t even enough time to get through the planning process let alone build and commission new capacity specially with all the NIMBYS and eco-warriors demanding to have their say. If we can’t build new stations quickly enough we may need to ask the EU to allow us to run the old stations for a while longer; or simply tell them to get stuffed.

Most of the electricity in France is generated using nuclear power. It seems that they made the right decision a long time ago. Maybe we should build nuclear power stations and use them to generate most of our electricity, to avoid all the problems we would otherwise face?

Mark Dawson says:
17 January 2013

Enough of the bombardment of green this and green that for sure. We cant afford unreliable wind and solar (seems more like a ploy for more stealth tax-look at your energy bill break down). Nuclear needs to be looked at even if it is subsidised, at least its reliable! perhaps a 50% nuclear, 15% renewable and the rest conventional is where we need to go until research into alternate techs is concluded (fusion?).

Joseph says:
29 January 2013

I agree that it is important to engage the public in the conversation on the current and future energy challenges. I would like to see a greater emphasis on the urgency of climate change and how this is not just about keeping the lights on but also about avoiding the worst conswquences of climate change. Whilst a vast majority of scientists world-wide agree with the IPCC consensus and quantitative evidence of the impacts of anthropogenic climate change is building up year on year, the public is still not clear on how serious the threat is or the level of consensus among the best informed individuals. A step change is required in the efforts of governments and responsible businesses like National Grid to engage the public as voters and consumers and drive the development of the UK energy system in a sustainable manner which is almost certainly a mixture of new nuclear and renewables and demonstrably not a massive expansion of gas fired stations. In thde face of the devastation almost certain to be wrought by the increasingly likely 4 degree temperature rise the impact of energy infrastructure on local environments and communities is very small. if there was a greater understanding of the bigger climate picture in society, it would be much easier to engage the local communities whose support we hope to recieve.