National Grid’s Joseph Northwood discusses the company’s vital work to future-proof London’s power supply and help meet the massive challenge of scaling up the UK’s offshore wind capacity.
Last month I was delighted to brief the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) on National Grid’s flagship London Power Tunnels (LPT) project.
I also spoke of our proposed portfolio of work along the East Coast, which is vital to deliver net zero.
Powering London, underground
LPT is currently National Grid’s biggest infrastructure project in delivery.
It represents a £1 billion investment to rewire London through 32.5km of tunnels, ensuring safe and reliable power supply for a thriving and growing city.
Thirty metres below seven London boroughs, the tunnels are capable of transmitting electricity to power the equivalent of half a million kettles simultaneously.
London is only getting bigger. By renewing and reinforcing our infrastructure now, future demands can be met, including building the charging capacity required for the shift to electric vehicles.
Meeting the challenges of Covid-19
The LPT team is making great progress. The project is on time and under budget, having only spent £300 million pounds of the billion set aside so far.
This progress has been even more heartening as we had to react quickly to the complex challenges presented by Covid-19, which threatened to stop works.
Work started on the very first day of lockdown, so strategies had to be put in place quickly to ensure staff could work safely on site and in line with new and evolving restrictions.
Delivering net zero
The LPT project is also committed to upskilling to help fulfil the UK’s commitment to reaching net zero by 2050. Doing so will require 400,000 new jobs in the energy sector.
In addition, the government has set a target of enabling 50GW of offshore wind generation by 2030 – a tall order when you consider the UK is currently at just 11 GW.
National Grid is helping to reduce this deficit by developing and building the onshore electrical infrastructure needed to unlock the North Sea’s offshore wind capacity, including several major projects primarily along the East Coast of the country.
This means building a large amount of infrastructure in a short timeframe.
Each project is of huge scale and complexity, both in terms of engineering and securing the necessary consent from stakeholders.
The importance of certainty in delivery
National Grid places a great deal of importance in balancing social, environmental and economic considerations when delivering critical infrastructure.
However, it’s also key that the government and regulators provide enough certainty in the policy and regulatory frameworks.
This to allow us to upgrade the onshore electricity network at the pace needed to meet the UK’s 2030, 2035 and 2050 targets.
We are therefore working closely with Ofgem and BEIS to help shape the policies which will drive the delivery of these vital net zero infrastructure projects.
Success will require both effective planning reform and greater regulatory certainty.
This will allow developers to place contracts with the supply chain so that they can mobilise the capacity and capability to accelerate delivery.
Only with effective government policy and regulatory certainty can we deliver these vital projects fast enough to achieve net zero.
Inspiring the next generation of engineers
These projects provide us with the opportunity to develop and scale-up these industries in the UK.
This will create green skills and jobs for the wider regions and their communities, contributing to the 400,000 new energy jobs required to reach net zero, while helping deliver value to consumers.
One of our many initiatives to help facilitate this is our partnership with social enterprise, Connectr.
Through this we are engaging with 100,000 underrepresented school children from the areas impacted by our works, and hoping the programme will encourage students to consider engineering as a career.
We are working to show the next generation that becoming an engineer is an opportunity to effect real change and help us on the journey to net zero!
It was a pleasure for National Grid to be able to speak at the APPGI and we look forward to coming back again soon.
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