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Why investment in vital net zero infrastructure is the best response to rising energy prices

Loch Lochy, site of the Coire Glas project | Credit: SSE

Alistair Phillips-Davies, Chief Executive

Alistair Phillips-Davies, Chief Executive | SSE

3 min read Partner content

Energy security doesn't have to come at the detriment of Net Zero. With energy prices rocketing, it's time to throw our weight behind Britain's engineers, and deliver green infrastructure that protects our energy supply.

Last week SSE joined other leading renewable energy developers at a Downing Street round table, to discuss the role that wind generation can play in achieving a more affordable and resilient energy system.

As we told the Prime Minister, his forthcoming energy supply strategy is a vital opportunity to kick start the biggest national infrastructure drive since WW2 and make a decisive leap away from an energy system which is dependent on imported fossil fuels, towards a system which uses more secure, homegrown and low carbon sources of power.

We have seen heated debate about how best to accelerate this energy transition and which technologies should be prioritised. With households currently experiencing a severe cost of living challenge we need to ensure that policy decisions are based on the lowest cost pathways which can deliver more affordable energy.

I believe the evidence clearly shows that accelerating the drive to build more offshore wind is the cheapest, quickest route to a secure, clean and homegrown energy system. SSE commissioned a study from LCP which found that this renewables-led pathway, centred on our world leading offshore wind industry, can be part of a transition which will save almost £50bn by 2050 compared to current plans.

Of course we know that other technologies, including nuclear, will feature in the Prime Minister’s plans. But the falling price of offshore wind compared to new nuclear projects justifies its place at the heart of our future energy system.

The criticism of renewables has always been that they’re variable and can’t be relied upon, or are paid to shut down at times of oversupply. That’s where the Prime Minister has an opportunity to develop the infrastructure that can support renewables as part of an affordable and reliable system.

We need to unlock massive investment in the grid infrastructure that will enable us to harness wind’s full potential, connect new wind farms and get the power to where it’s needed – projects like the subsea cable from the north of Scotland to the north of England we’re working on with National Grid and Scottish Power.

And amid all the debate about wind power, North Sea drilling, fracking and new nuclear, one critical word tends to be overlooked – flexibility

Flexibility holds the key to realising the full benefits of renewables. Put simply, we need ways to capture wind power when there’s too much of it and store it for when it’s not windy enough.

Network investments will help, but there’s another established British technology that can have a massive impact: pumped hydro storage. We can use excess wind power to push water up a hill. It stays there until we need the energy, at which point we release it back down the hill, with the sheer weight of it turning a turbine and generating power.

Our project at Coire Glas in the highlands would be the first such project in 30 years – it’s big enough to power 3 million homes for 24 hours on its own. Critically, it can be built without any subsidy, subject to some tweaks to regulation.

These kinds of hydro projects played a huge role in the UK’s post-war recovery, harnessing the power of the glens and creating green jobs for soldiers returning from war. This is the kind of solution we need as part of a national effort to boost investment in infrastructure, deliver a green economic recovery and build the homegrown energy on which our future generations can depend.

It’s time to unlock investment and Britain’s engineering prowess to break our reliance on imported fossil fuels, create jobs, bring prices down and reduce emissions.

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Read the most recent article written by Alistair Phillips-Davies, Chief Executive - From Ambition to Action: A Delivery Plan for Cleaner, Homegrown Energy


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