Urgent call for the global electricity grid to be upgraded

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that investment needs to double to more than $600bn a year by 2030 in order to build a vast new network of electricity grids, if countries are to be able to hit their climate goals.

The IEA has warned that the equivalent of the entire global electricity grid – 80m km of grid – needs to be added or refurbished by 2040 to ensure reliable power supplies capable of supporting climate goals.

Warning that the industry has experienced, “a decade of stagnation at the global level”, the IEA said that with the demand for electricity set to surge, as consumers, businesses and governments switch to low-carbon alternatives, there are worries that poor grid connections will stymie wider efforts at electrification and decarbonisation.

The Inflation Reduction Act in the US has encouraged investors to back renewable projects in America, and this is being mirrored elsewhere around the world, but there are real concerns that developers are facing significant problems when it comes to connecting new projects to the grid.

In the UK, for example, projects have been waiting up to 15 years to connect to the grid, despite the efforts of the National Grid to speed up the process.

The IEA said renewable projects offering at least 3,000 gigawatts of power were waiting for connections to their national grids – five times as much as the solar and wind capacity added globally in 2022.

The IEA has called for governments to “open their eyes” and invest in new grid capacity, otherwise countries will have to increase their dependence on fossil fuels.

The agency urged governments to support the expansion of supply chains and invest in extra training to upgrade grids, while warning that planning systems also needed to be improved.

The National Grid, here in the UK, has laid out plans for a £54bn upgrade of the electricity network to accommodate the growth in the offshore wind industry, the biggest investment since the 1960s.

Commenting David Hall, VP of Power Systems at Schneider Electric UK&I, said, “Conversations about diversifying the UK’s energy system have been ongoing for decades, yet the UK is still on the back foot when it comes to energy resiliency. Projects to support the energy transition are being rolled out at a fraction of the necessary pace required to support modern day energy demands.”

We should be doing everything in our power to, as Hall said, accelerate the connection of low carbon technologies to the grid, enhancing grid flexibility.

There is certainly an urgent need for improved planning to enable a more rapid integration of renewables into the energy mix as well as the provision of greater incentives for long term energy storage.