Wind turbine near sea

Translating COP26 into action

Environmental Specialist Carolyn Gardner reflects on COP26 and shares what National Grid Electricity Transmission is doing reduce our environmental impacts.

In November I was lucky enough to attend COP26 on behalf of National Grid. It was billed as the "last-chance saloon" for world leaders to keep global temperature rises to no more than 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

The pact that was agreed in Glasgow is historic in that it is the first from any COP to mention fossil fuels, but post-summit, early forecasts are placing the likely temperature pathway of commitments between 1.8C and 2.4C.

It’s clear that COP26 has already been a catalyst for increased political will and ambition, with new commitments to work together to cut emissions and address the climate challenges ahead.

But what are we doing in National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) to reduce our environmental impacts?

As the transmission owner for England and Wales, we sit at the heart of the nation’s energy system. It’s an important role in enabling and accelerating the transition to a cleaner power, connecting increasing amounts of renewable energy and helping to deliver a zero carbon grid. 

The aim for NGET is to  reduce scope 1 and 2 emissions - 34% reduction by 2026, 50% reduction by 2030 (from a 2018 baseline) and to be net zero by 2050. We will also deliver carbon neutral construction, driving down carbon emissions throughout the entire lifecycle of our projects.

This support National Grid Group’s overall commitments of Net Zero by 2050 and emissions targets that align to a well-below two degrees pathway, consistent with the ambition requirements of the Paris Agreement and Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

For more information on our environmental commitments, please read our Environmental Action Plan

How are we going to achieve our emissions reduction targets?

Step1 - We will reduce carbon emissions we can directly control.

  • Use of insulating gases – Our biggest contributor to climate change under our direct control is leakage of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) used as an insulating gas in high-voltage equipment. SF6 is a very potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential (GWP) of 23,900TCO2e. We are working with our regulator to secure funding to enable us to deliver a targeted investment programme to replace equipment containing SF6. We will also not be putting any more SF6 into the network when there is an alternative that is commercially viable. By 2026, we will reduce emissions from SF6 by 33%.

  • Energy used at offices and operational sites: By 2026, we will procure 100% renewable electricity for our own use, we’ll achieve a 20% energy efficiency for our offices and we’ll employ an energy efficiency programme at our substations.

  • Travel: By 2026, 60% of our fleet will be switched to electric. We will also install and maintain charge points across 234 National Grid Electricity Transmission sites to enable our fleet commitment.

  • Transmission losses: Losses are an inevitable consequence of transmitting electricity to consumers, as energy is lost as heat from power flows though electrical equipment such as cables, overhead lines, and transformers. There is a limited amount we can do to reduce losses because they are mostly driven by the generation source and the distance over which electricity is transmitted. We will create a transmission losses strategy to focus our efforts in the areas where we do have control, such as how we factor losses into our investment decisions.

Step 2 – Indirect emissions

Infrastructure projects are responsible for half the UK’s carbon emissions. Building new assets such as substations is a big part of our job. We therefore need to find ways to make our construction work less carbon intensive, which goes hand-in-hand with reducing costs for the business. Our target is to achieve carbon neutral construction emissions by 2026.

We will reduce emissions as much as is feasibly possible in line with internationally recognised industry standard PAS2080 Carbon Management in Infrastructure, and only offset residual emissions that cannot be avoided.