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Zero carbon explained

If you’ve got questions about the future of sustainable energy in the UK, you’ve come to the right place.

At National Grid ESO, we’re preparing Britain’s electricity system to be able to run on purely zero-carbon electricity by 2025 – ready to accommodate whatever quantity of renewable electricity is being generated at that time.

Find out how our zero carbon targets will help the UK reach it's 2050 Net Zero target, what we've done so far and what challenges lie ahead.

What's the difference between 'net zero' and 'zero carbon'?

In order to halt the effects of climate change, a number of countries are committing to net zero emissions economies.

This means that any carbon emissions created are balanced (kind of cancelled out) by taking the same amount out of the atmosphere.

The House of Commons has approved draft legislation to make the UK Net Zero by 2050 and this target applies to all sectors, including aviation and shipping.

National Grid ESO’s ambition is to be able to operate a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025.

This means if the market provides us purely with electricity generated from zero carbon sources, we can run the system without needing to use any extra services that emit carbon. So Britain’s electricity will be carbon free.

It's no easy task, but rest assured, we have some of the brightest minds hard at work so we can deliver on our end of the bargain.

What have you done so far to reach a zero carbon electricity system by 2025?

Our target is to be able to operate a zero carbon electricity system in Britain by 2025, we’d be the first system operator in the world to make the full transformation.

Watch the video and find out what we've done so far to reach our zero carbon ambition.

See transcript of this video

At National Grid ESO, our target is to be able to operate a zero carbon electricity system in Britain by 2025.

Which means preparing the system to run purely on zero carbon electricity, like wind, solar and hydropower, without relying on any carbon-based generators to balance the grid.

We’d be the first system operator in the world to make the full transformation. And we’re working hard to make it happen.

Over the past five years, we’re proud to say the average carbon intensity of our electricity system has reduced by 53%. Here’s how:

Firstly, reliance on coal-fired power stations has lessened, with all remaining UK coal plants to be shut down by 2024.

We’ve facilitated more sustainable electricity suppliers to connect to the system, from windfarms, solar farms and biomass generators, to the growing number of homes and small businesses with microgeneration of their own.

We’re also introducing new ways to balance the frequency of electricity in the system without using carbon. 

Making a conscious decision to control your energy use, perhaps with the help of a smart meter –  helps reduce the demand on the system and ease our transition to a greener electricity supply. We’ve still got a long way to go to reach our target. But we’re committed to overcoming the challenges before us, and working together to build a sustainable Britain for generations to come.

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What challenges do you face getting to zero carbon emissions targets?

Getting Britain's electricity system to meet our zero carbon emissions target won't be easy.

It's not a case of simply encouraging enough sustainable suppliers to connect to the grid.

Watch the video and find out what challenges lie ahead and how we're planning to overcome them.

See transcript of this video

Working towards a zero-carbon electricity system is no small undertaking.

It’s not a case of simply encouraging enough sustainable suppliers to connect to the grid.

The main challenge is maintaining a consistent supply, and being flexible to changes in demand.

Where coal and gas-powered stations can control how much they burn, renewables can’t exactly change the wind or make the sun shine. Meaning the supply of energy from renewables can drop or rise suddenly depending on the weather.

And this has big implications for our grid.

Our electricity has to run at a constant frequency of 50 hertz, and even tiny deviations from this could damage the equipment we use to transmit and receive it across the country. It also has to be at a suitable voltage for transmission.

The challenge is that both frequency and voltage fluctuate with demand. And while traditional power stations respond to these changes very quickly, by producing more energy or absorbing excess from the grid, sustainable suppliers currently have no way of doing either.

So for our future system to be as flexible as our current one, we need to find a way for them to store and release energy on demand. And we’ll also need new tools to improve our situational awareness – forecasting future energy demands and preparing for environmental factors. So we can keep our electricity flowing, whatever the weather.

There’s a lot we’ve got to overcome to meet our target, but with your help we know we can make it happen.

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What can I do to help achieve a zero carbon Britain?

Climate change is everybody’s responsibility. 

And while we’re working hard to ensure our electricity system is as sustainable as possible, we can all make a difference with a greener approach to how we use it. 

Watch the video and find out what two things you could do to help us reach a net zero Britain.

See transcript of this video

Climate change is everybody’s responsibility. 

And while we’re working hard to ensure our electricity system is as sustainable as possible, we can all make a difference with a greener approach to how we use it. 

There are two key things we can do.

The first is to use less energy. And the second is to control when we use it - over a third of the UK’s carbon emissions are spent keeping us warm.

Better insulated homes make a big difference, as does swapping your old boiler for a heat pump, or using solar panels to heat your water.

Another 25% of our emissions come from transport.

Electric vehicles not only produce far less CO2 than petrol or diesel engines, but if you charge them at the right time via an automated system, they can even help draw surplus energy from the grid – which could save or even earn you money if you’re on a flexible tariff.

And because the quantity of sustainable energy on the grid depends on the weather, running your washing machine can actually be greener when it’s windy.

You can track how sustainable your energy currently is with our Carbon Intensity app.

From installing a smart meter to buying more efficient appliances – every environmentally conscious decision you make puts us one step closer to a sustainable future for us all.

 

 

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