Our annual report: a year of progress and challenges for Britain’s electricity system

As we publish our first annual report since National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) became a legally separate business within the National Grid group, our executive director Fintan Slye reflects on a year of strong progress and unique challenges.

April 2019 was a proud moment in our history – when we became an independent electricity system operator within the National Grid Group.

The rationale behind the separation was to provide our customers and stakeholders with transparency. It distances us from potential or perceived conflicts of interest with National Grid’s other roles such as Electricity Transmission Owner, and it gives confidence that everything we do will promote competition for the wider benefit of consumers.

It also provides us with a fantastic opportunity to shape the future. The world of energy is rapidly transforming, and we are at the heart of delivering this transformation.

Our people, along with industry colleagues, have risen to the challenges of the last year to ensure a safe and secure electricity supply for Great Britain

We have set ourselves an ambitious goal: that the electricity system will be able to operate at zero carbon by 2025. This means that in five years’ time we will be ready to operate the system safely and securely with 100% zero carbon generation – whenever it is available – including wind, solar, hydro and other renewable sources. We believe we could be the first system in the world to achieve that.

We have already made great progress. In May and June 2019, Great Britain ran for 18 days without using coal-fired generation for the first time since the pre-industrial period. Since the end of the last financial year, this record has been extended to more than nine weeks of coal-free generation. A fantastic achievement.

These are giant strides on our journey to a sustainable energy system. But there is still plenty more to achieve in the transition to net-zero as a society and economy. Over the next financial year, we will continue to focus on our Pathfinder projects, identifying how we can replace the services provided by fossil fuel generation with services from renewable generation, demand side response, and other innovative technologies.

In our annual report you can read more about our people and our business plans, the investments we’ll make and how we’ll innovate for the future along with the performance outcomes on which we’ll be measured.

National Grid ESO - annual report and accounts - Canary wharf at night

Read our 2019/20 annual report and accounts

Other events that have marked our first 12 months as a stand-alone business were totally unforeseen.

On 9 August 2019, a rare major incident where two power stations suddenly disconnected from the network meant we had to invoke our back-up procedures which in turn led to a brief loss of power for parts of the country. Subsequent investigations have shown our response was robust and proper, but we continue to work with Ofgem and other industry partners to learn from the incident and try to avoid a repeat.

And, of course, we have witnessed the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the globe and put the UK into lockdown. The virus has fundamentally changed our lives and with it has come a significant reduction in demand for electricity, as businesses and factories have closed.

While this unprecedented situation has presented us with challenges, we have well-developed procedures in place to manage the effect of a pandemic and we swiftly implemented our business continuity plans which allowed us to maintain safe working environments for our people.

From the actions we took over summer to keep the lights on, to the way our colleagues rallied to support each other and the community throughout the pandemic, I’m proud of our response during this difficult and uncertain period.

It is testament to the resilience of our planning and our systems, and of our people who – along with colleagues in the wider energy sector – have risen to the challenge to make sure Great Britain can continue to rely on a safe and secure electricity supply day in, day out.