Low carbon network infrastructure Contents

1Introduction

1.By 2050, the UK must reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 80% from their 1990 baseline.1 The need for decarbonisation is clear, and it must be met—and is beginning to be met—with cleaner energy sources. Network infrastructure encompasses the pipes and pylons that carry electricity, gas and heat, the control centres and ancillary services that match supply and demand, and the public- and private-sector organisations responsible for the operation and maintenance of these. If both the production and the use of energy must change, then the networks joining them must adapt.

2.Some transformations are already occurring. Electricity generators used to be predominantly large, centralised plant connected to the high-voltage, long-range transmission network. Now, significant quantities of generation—mostly small-scale solar and wind—are connecting to the low-voltage, short-range distribution networks. Larger renewable developments must be sited where the resource is best: this is not always close to demand. Discussions with stakeholders about our priorities highlighted a need to investigate strain on the distribution networks, cost concerns for generators and consumers alike, and new challenges in balancing supply and demand.2

3.We launched our Low carbon network infrastructure inquiry on 15 September 2015. We received 53 written submissions and held six oral evidence sessions between December 2015 and April 2016. A full list of witnesses can be found at the back of this report. In addition, we visited Copenhagen in February 2016, and a note of this visit can also be found at the back of this report. We are grateful to all those who contributed to this inquiry.

4.In chapter 2 of this report, we consider connections in energy networks, analysing immediate challenges in terms of connection queues, network costs, and physical infrastructure. In chapter 3, we address the issue of managing electricity networks with more variable energy flows. In chapter 4, we discuss wider topics of regulation and governance, covering innovation funding and system operation at both transmission and distribution levels. Chapter 5 sets out what we think the Government’s overarching approach to low carbon network infrastructure should be. We focus primarily on electricity networks throughout, but also consider gas and heat networks infrastructure in chapter 2, and a whole-systems approach to energy in chapter 5.

Box 1: Working towards our goals

At the start of the 2015 Parliament we set out three goals for our scrutiny work:

  • Holding the Government to account on achieving a balanced energy policy;
  • Setting the agenda on an innovative future energy system; and
  • Influencing the long-term approach to climate targets.*

Our work on low carbon network infrastructure cuts across our goals to hold the Government to account on achieving a balanced energy policy and to set the agenda on an innovative future energy system. The UK’s networks are central to an affordable, secure and low-carbon supply of energy, and the challenges they face today will require innovative techniques and technologies to overcome. Throughout the course of this Parliament, we welcome feedback on our work towards our goals.

*Energy and Climate Change Committee, First Report of Session 2015–16, Our priorities for Parliament 2015–20, HC 368, para 11


1 Climate Change Act 2008, section 1

2 Energy and Climate Change Committee, First Report of Session 2015–16, Our priorities for Parliament 2015–20, HC 368, paras 11, 14, 26




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

15 June 2016