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Insights and Stories

Net Zero Milestones in the Year of COP26

February 01, 2021

2021 is set to be a momentous year; as the world strives to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, progress towards a truly sustainable future must also remain at the forefront of our minds.

2020 was the joint hottest year on record globally, in spite of a fall in fossil fuel use due to Covid lockdowns around the world, and without the El Nino temperature boosting event that occurred in 2016 (the other hottest year).

In contrast, a positive headline for last year is that it was recently confirmed by National Grid Electricity System Operator (NG ESO) as the greenest year on record for the UK electricity system and as having the first ever coal-free Christmas Day. 2020 closed with a 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and the Energy White Paper from the Government, the overarching objectives of which include transforming the energy system and supporting a green recovery.

Now, 2021 is set to go down as one of the most important years in history and as being instrumental in determining the future of our planet. In November the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (otherwise known this year as COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow. Around 30,000 heads of state, climate experts, business leaders, and campaigners from around the world will gather at the COP26 summit to accelerate urgently needed action against the climate crisis.

Previously, COP21 set the course for change with the historic Paris Agreement five years ago, committing to holding the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and to strive to limit the rise to 1.5oC.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the pursuit of climate-resilient development were identified as crucial factors in achieving success. It’s estimated that human-caused CO2 emissions need to fall by around 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to reach Net Zero (the balancing of carbon emissions released into, and taken out of, the atmosphere) by 2050.

It’s anticipated there will be major announcements ahead of COP26 on immediate plans to help combat the climate emergency, but what else can we expect to see ahead of this significant event? In the first half of the year we should see several releases from the Hydrogen Strategy, to the Smart Systems Plan, and a Net Zero Strategy paper from the Government.

As the first major economy to commit to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, the UK demonstrated its commitment to leading the way on Climate Change. Policy, legislation, and regulation is ensuring that businesses and the public are pulling in the same direction.

However, working out the parts that UK generators, distributors, and suppliers will play in the transition is ongoing. This is of greater importance now more than ever, as there is uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Covid recovery on supply and demand, combined with record-breaking renewable generation in 2020, and trying to anticipate what the ‘new normal’ will be post-pandemic.

So, as an energy business, how does Sembcorp help provide sustainable solutions for a low carbon future?

Group President and CEO Wong Kim Yin is committed to investing to grow Sembcorp’s global 3,000MW portfolio of renewable energy capacity in operation and under development, continuing to offer sustainable solutions for customers and communities, and ensuring access to sustainable and reliable supplies of energy, making urban cities safe, resilient, and sustainable.

Here in the UK, at Wilton International on Teesside, we help major energy users and suppliers improve their efficiency and sustainability by supplying private wire electricity, world-scale utilities, and specialist services to energy-intensive industrial businesses on the site. These services are complemented by our fleet of fast-acting, decentralised power stations and battery storage sites situated throughout England and Wales. Monitored and controlled from our central operations facility in Solihull, these flexible assets deliver electricity to the national grid, helping to ensure reliable power for homes and businesses, and strengthening the UK’s electricity system to support the continuous growth of renewables.

Sembcorp’s UK milestones

Major milestones on our journey to a cleaner future started with pioneering biomass in 2007 – this helped lead to the closure of our last coal-fired boilers at our Wilton Power Station in 2014, ahead of the Government’s 2015 commitment to phase out coal over the following 10 years.

In 2016 the Wilton 11 energy from waste facility then came online, and 2018 saw our UK operations expand with rapid-response energy generation that helps enable more renewables on the grid.

Here’s how our efforts to drive the energy transition are increasing as we explore innovative solutions and stand alongside others on the path to Net-Zero 2050:

Large scale battery storage and grid stability services

The UK energy system needs to be flexible and increasingly able to respond quickly to changes – more so than ever given the shift in patterns of consumer demand and the nation’s ever-increasing reliance on wind and solar.

Sembcorp Energy UK’s flexible electricity generating sites have the ability to fire up in under two minutes to help balance the grid. They are utilised both to reduce spikes in demand and as back up for when the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind doesn’t blow.

Additionally, battery storage systems have the power to hold energy generated from renewables and keep it for use at times when electricity demand increases or when renewable sources aren’t able to deliver. Our 60MW operational battery portfolio will double in size this year to 120MW, making it one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

Another key function that our batteries provide helps NG ESO to dynamically manage the UK’s energy system in real-time. Functioning like the cruise control in a car, our batteries automatically increase or decrease their output to ensure that the system frequency remains consistently within safe limits, helping to keep it stable and reducing the risk of power cuts.

We’re proud that in 2020 our batteries secured some of the first contracts to deliver NG ESO’s new Dynamic Containment service, a fast frequency response that reacts quickly to maintain system frequency. Renewable generation does not currently provide the inertia needed to maintain frequency, so it can change very quickly and cause instability in the system. Keeping the grid balanced through services like Dynamic Containment therefore provides the resilience needed to support the growth of renewables.

Building on this, we are willing to support NG ESO with the stability and reactive power services they will require in the future.

Sembcorp partnership brings world-first ‘sonar’ pulse system to Teesside

In a pioneering partnership between NG ESO and the innovative energy technology firm Reactive Technologies, an ultracapacitor based on Sembcorp-owned premises at Wilton International will help accelerate the transition to cleaner energy.

The ultracapacitor will directly measure inertia by sending pulses of power through the grid – similar to the underwater sound waves used in sonar, helping efforts to keep the system balanced. The modulator will be delivered this year allowing the system to then overlay highly accurate inertia data.

The technology, developed in Finland by Reactive’s team of ex-Nokia communications engineers, is the first ever to enable the sending of signals through a power grid anywhere in the world and will allow for inertia to be directly measured in this way for the first time.

Andy Koss, Sembcorp CEO UK & Middle East:

We are proud that Wilton International is the host site for this innovative technology and that by working in partnership with Reactive Technologies we are responding to the challenge of meeting the UK’s energy and grid stability needs in times of reduced generating capacity.

As this new tool boosts NG ESO’s ‘visibility’ of inertia across the system it will help bring more renewable generation online, playing a major part in meeting its own ambition to operate a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2025.

Supporting carbon capture and hydrogen technologies

Having pioneered the development of large scale biomass power production with our plant at Wilton International on Teesside 14 years ago, we are a key stakeholder supporting Net Zero Teesside (NZT) with their ground-breaking project. With carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) seen as key to the delivery of future carbon budgets, the NZT initiative aims to produce the UK’s first decarbonised industrial cluster.

NZT’s ambition is to completely decarbonise industry in the area by as early as 2030, with plans to capture up to 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent to the annual energy use of over three million UK homes.

Government and industry know that NZT will be a transformative step in helping the UK reach its 2050 Net Zero target and would create and sustain 5,500 direct jobs linked to greener industry and technologies. It would also help to regenerate the area by making it attractive to companies which emit or use carbon dioxide.

Teesside is also home to some of the biggest hydrogen producers in the country. The region already produces half of the UK’s hydrogen, another technology seen as essential to the energy transition. With our operations at Wilton International being a key part of the area, we’re keen to engage with and understand how we can support the growing hydrogen economy.

We are also in conversation with our customers at Wilton International about how we can help support their decarbonisation journeys that in future may involve low carbon hydrogen or industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Offshore wind at Wilton International

Another renewable power development instrumental in bringing the winds of change to the UK’s energy system will also begin to take shape on Sembcorp-owned land at Wilton International in the spring.

Construction of the onshore electrical infrastructure for the Sofia and Dogger Bank C Offshore Wind Farms is set to get underway in March. The two wind farms are sited on Dogger Bank, in the centre of the North Sea, more than 190km from the North-East coast and will see 2.4GW of power head to Teesside.

The power will be transmitted by offshore cables, arriving on shore at a site near Redcar. Wilton International, 7km inland, will be home to a DC-to-AC converter station for each wind farm project. Further buried cables will then transport the power another 2km to the existing substation at Lackenby, where it will feed into the national grid.

First steps on the path to Net Zero 2050

Andy Koss, Sembcorp CEO, UK and Middle East:

There is a huge amount of work taking place across the board on Teesside and throughout the nation, and Sembcorp Energy UK is determined to play its part in helping the UK and the world move towards sustainable solutions for a cleaner, low carbon future.

“Our position in the UK and global energy markets, combined with the skills of our workforce, gives us a superb opportunity to be one of the key players driving the transition to Net Zero.

“It is also vital that this is a ‘just transition’ – we must make sure that people employed in carbon intensive roles are not left behind by the green industrial revolution, and that their skills can be reused in a low carbon economy.”

Sembcorp has shown that it will walk the talk when it comes to sustainable solutions. We have the expertise and appetite to drive the energy transition. Throughout 2021 and beyond we will continue to actively support innovative technologies that will lead the UK to achieving Net Zero 2050.