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The Great Grid Upgrade

2024 marks a new phase in the United Kingdom’s climate change defence plan

By Georgie Burns


Offshore Wind Farm by Nicholas Doherty via Unsplash


Climate change is a global issue that has gained widespread attention due to its devastating impact on our planet. From wildfires and floods to droughts and disease, it has touched every corner of the world and left behind humanitarian emergencies. As a result, governments, companies, and individuals are being called upon to take action to help combat the crisis we find ourselves in. One measure being taken by the United Kingdom is the Great Grid Upgrade: a plan to decarbonise our power system by 2035 by boosting homegrown power, an essential step towards achieving net zero by 2050. This plan represents the most extensive upgrade of the UK’s electricity grid in generations. It will enable us to carry clean energy from wherever it is generated to anywhere in the UK  through a series of projects pioneered by National Grid and SSEN Transmission.


Across the country, puzzle-piece projects (such as improving electrical lines, building substations, and laying under-sea cables) are being implemented to create a new and improved electrical grid, and Aberdeenshire is no exception. To achieve decarbonisation, the UK is focusing on wind power. It has a world-leading ambition to deploy up to 50 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, much of which will be generated on the East Coast of Scotland - for example, from the world’s largest floating wind farm, which is only (roughly) nine miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire. To reach this aim, the UK's offshore wind is being developed on an unprecedented scale, while greater interconnection with countries across the North Sea through undersea electric cables is beginning to prosper. However, despite the potential to fuel millions of homes across the UK, the infrastructure needed to transport this volume of clean energy is not yet in place. The Great Grid Upgrade relies on four "Eastern Green Links" (EGL), high voltage, direct current "superhighways," which will carry high volumes of electrical traffic hundreds of miles. These highways will be the backbone of the future electrical grid, powering homes and businesses across England, Scotland, and Wales, with all four of them starting in Eastern Scotland, some from Aberdeenshire itself. 


This year is important for the Great Grid Upgrade, with each EGL project entering a new phase. EGL1 (which will run from Torness, East Lothian, to Hawthorn Pit, Durham) is finalising its plan to begin construction next year. In contrast, EGL2 (which will run from Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, to Drax, North Yorkshire) is starting construction this year. At the same time, EGL3 and EGL4 (both of which will run from Eastern Scotland, likely Aberdeenshire to Lincolnshire) are beginning their first public consultations this Spring to develop the plans with feedback from the local communities. However, development is likely to be a long process, as the plans are expected to face opposition from local communities and environmental groups, as with any major infrastructure project. 


For example, constructing the Kintore-Tealing 400kV line is one of SSEN's projects to help reach Scotland’s renewable energy targets. It has been highly controversial in the North-East with placards of ‘Save our Countryside’ and ‘Stop SSEN Monster Pylons’ lining the roads throughout the Deeside area of Aberdeenshire and the Mearns, as well as numerous protests taking place over the last year. The protests have already forced many changes on the project and will likely continue to do so until its completion. It is easy to foresee similar issues arising for EGL3 and EGL4. 


Despite the challenges, The Great Grid Upgrade has many potential benefits, including supporting up to 130,000 jobs and contributing an estimated £4-11 billion of GVA to the UK's economy by 2050. Additionally, it will make the UK more self-sufficient in terms of energy supplies, reducing our dependence on Russia as an energy superpower. Most importantly, it will help the country reach its net zero targets faster and hopefully slow down the acceleration of climate change before it is too late.


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