‘There is no transition without transmission.’ This phrase has been echoed by energy experts and politicians across the world. But what does it mean? It seems as if the renewable energy transition is unfolding smoothly. Globally renewable energy generation is predicted to increase five-fold by 2040. And President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act constituted the largest investment into addressing climate change in US history; the law will see $738 billion invested in renewable energy projects.
But it’s not that easy: without a colossal upgrade and reworking of our energy infrastructure and networks, much of this clean energy will be marooned. It will not find its way into our homes and businesses. The full energy transition simply will not be able to take place.
In the US alone, the electric grid will need to expand by at least 60% by 2030. Based on historical developments, this represents a century’s worth of work to be completed in less than a decade. What’s more, fewer than one-fifth of American solar and wind proposals come to fruition due to delays in connecting them to an electric grid. The UK’s networks are also in dire need of regeneration: 25% of the UK’s electricity comes from wind power, but with a lack of sufficient infrastructure to transport electricity from wind farms, the National Grid has to regularly ask wind farms to stop producing in order to avoid overwhelming the local grid.
The solutions are clear but challenging: we need to connect offshore wind farms to the mainland and we need speedier planning permission for renewable infrastructure projects. We must also ensure that England receives enough energy since the vast majority of wind power is produced in Scotland. We must coordinate with Europe to help export and import power, and we must build out battery storage capacity. All of this requires major financial investment and government support.
Expanding our global electricity networks is the key to unlocking a renewable future. To implement such a project will require seismic policy change, innovative thinking and massive investment. It’s an essential part of the energy transition. There are big questions and issues to discuss: how will we fund improved networks? What infrastructure projects need to be prioritised to make the most efficient use of resources? How will the private and public sectors work together to facilitate these changes? How can we change regulations and reduce bureaucracy to increase the speed at which renewable energy sources can be connected to the grid? In this event, Iberdrola and Intelligence Squared brought together top energy experts to underline the critical importance of transmission networks in the energy transition and set out a roadmap for the future.