Posted: 22 August 2013
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2020 signposts

The UK faces many energy challenges, not least the race to meet its stated environmental targets by 2020. Gary Dolphin, National Grid’s Market Outlook Manager, examines the hurdles that must be overcome and the potential pathway to a greener future.

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2020 signposts

2020 signposts

Offshore wind generation as part of the London Array in the Thames Estuary. The UK needs to reach a combined wind capacity of 26 GW by 2020 to help meet its environmental obligations. © London Array

“Continued development of UK energy policy is essential, alongside a rapid acceleration in the UK’s overall renewable energy capacity.”

Gary Dolphin, National Grid’s Market Outlook Manager


UK consent rates for onshore wind projects vary from around 60% in Scotland and Wales, 80% in Northern Ireland and 54% in England.

Source: UK Renewable Energy Roadmap, Department of Energy and Climate Change (@DECCgovuk)

The Gone Green scenario that we presented at the launch of our 2013 UK Future Energy Scenarios is based on the UK meeting its environmental targets.

According to this scenario, 15% of our final energy consumption would come from renewables by 2020, while greenhouse gas emissions would meet the carbon budgets out to 2027. By 2050, we would see an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Gary Dolphin, National Grid’s Market Outlook Manager

Gary Dolphin, National Grid’s Market Outlook Manager

Setting out targets in this way is helpful, but it rather begs two questions: are we on track, and what has to happen if the UK is going to achieve the Gone Green scenario?

In addition, we need to be aware that the clock is already ticking. 2020 might seem a long way off, but in reality the next few years are critical to determining the shape of the UK’s future energy mix for the foreseeable future and to achieving the 2020 target on time.

So are we on track?

In 2007 the UK percentage of final energy consumption from renewables was 1.8%, rising to 4.1% by 2012. It doesn’t take a tremendous mathematical brain to realise that, at the current rate of growth, the target of 15% by 2020 will be missed. In fact, the UK would be somewhere close to 8% by that date. In short, we need to see positive action and quickly.

National Grid has consistently described the UK’s environmental targets as ‘challenging but achievable’. We are committed to playing our part in terms of sharing information, reacting to what is happening in the energy market and connecting sources of new generation. This is only one small part of the solution, however. Continued development of UK energy policy is essential, alongside a rapid acceleration in the UK’s overall renewable energy capacity.

Will this happen in time? It’s helpful to take the temperature of current opinion, which is exactly what we do through our stakeholder engagement programme, where we spoke to more than 90 organisations covering renewables, oil and gas, Government and regulators and non-governmental interest groups.

The feedback shows that many people don’t believe the UK will hit the 15% target on time. Just over 50% of stakeholders estimated that the figure would be reached somewhere between 2020 and 2025.

The keys to success

Under our Gone Green scenario, 34% of the UK’s power generation will be from renewable energy by 2020.

National Grid sits at the heart of the energy industry in the UK but does not favour one type of generation over another. Our scenario shows a balanced approach to meeting the environmental targets with no single renewable energy source being seen as a ‘silver bullet’. That said, the biggest contribution to renewable energy does come from wind. Increasing wind capacity is therefore central to meeting the environmental targets.

The UK’s wind capacity is currently about 9 GW, with 3 GW derived from offshore sources and 6GW from onshore. We need to reach a combined wind capacity of 26 GW by 2020, so the scale of the challenge is readily apparent. An additional 17 GW of wind generation needs to be found by the end of the decade.

Achieving this capacity increase is not impossible. New renewable generation to the tune of 49 GW is already contracted to connect to the UK’s transmission system by 2020; in other words the potential is out there. Timing is everything though. 38 GW of this new capacity is at the scoping stage, 7 GW is awaiting consents, 3 GW has consents approved, while just 1 GW is under construction or being commissioned.

The need to accelerate capacity

The UK’s ability to bring on stream a significant proportion of this new renewable generation capacity in a timely manner is critical. In terms of build rates for offshore and onshore wind, we project a need to have 1.25 GW of new capacity each year up to 2016/17, and then in the range of 3 GW annually from 2017/18 through to 2020/21.

To put that into context, our Gone Green scenario requires three hundred 5 MW turbines to be connected offshore every year from 2017 to 2020 – a rate that is close to one a day. During 2012 there were a total of 234 turbines connected offshore.

This takes us back to my point about the UK entering a critical period. We need all of these new projects to be gaining planning consent by 2014/15 and to be under construction by 2016/17. That’s why the next one to two years will be pivotal.

So while there are still many issues to be overcome, including economic pressures, political uncertainty, planning difficulties and consenting delays, there is also progress to report with £110 billion of energy infrastructure investment, the publication of the Energy Bill and the Electricity Market Reform delivery plan.

The challenge now is to channel this progress into those real-world projects that will help the UK to meet its future energy challenge.

National Grid spoke to more than 90 different organisations as part of its FES 2013 stakeholder engagement programme.

National Grid spoke to more than 90 different organisations as part of its FES 2013 stakeholder engagement programme.

To find out more

Click here for more on 2013 Future Energy Scenarios.

The publication of National Grid’s 2013 UK Future Energy Scenarios (FES) paints a picture of how the UK’s energy landscape might look in 2035 and as far out as 2050. Richard Smith, National Grid’s Head of Energy Strategy and Policy, explains how the scenarios are developed. Click here to read more.

Help us with our communications

Following the release of our 2013 UK Future Energy Scenarios, we would like to make sure we are engaging with our stakeholders in a way that meets their needs. We are asking people to complete a short survey based on their experience of how we have been engaging our stakeholders. This will help us shape our future engagement process.

You can access and complete the survey via the following link:

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