A blog by Aileen McLeod, Head of Networks Development

Whilst predicting the future is a difficult task, as economists and political commentators the world around will testify to, forecasting is an essential part of planning for businesses of all shapes and sizes.  As the transmission owner for the north of Scotland, we are no different and one of the key aspects for our business is understanding the future energy requirements of our customers, communities and stakeholders. 

When we look back over the past decade, the focus has very much been on the work that needs to be done to meet the ambitious 2020 renewable energy and carbon reduction targets.  We are well on our way to meeting what many predicted were overly ambitions targets, with our network alone now supporting well in excess of 5GW of clean renewable energy.  However, we know we still have much to do and with the UK and Scottish Governments maintaining some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, underpinned by the landmark Paris Agreement in December 2015, the appetite to continue on a path to decarbonisation shows no signs of reducing. 

Every year the GB System Operator, National Grid, carries out analysis on a national basis, setting out a range of hypothetical future energy scenarios covering areas from the speed and scale of the likely uptake in Electric Vehicles, changes in domestic and industrial energy consumption, to predicting the future for large and small-scale electricity generators.  At a macro level, National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios are a powerful tool to help policy makers and the industry plan for the future as they capture a range of potential political, economic, social and technological possibilities. 

However, the application of the FES assumptions on a local level is limited and we know from experience that in our network region that the needs of our network users have not always matched the prevailing GB trends.  From the speed and scale in the growth in renewables, particularly local and community schemes; a divergence in energy trends for industrial energy consumption, which anecdotally we believe can be attributed to the north of Scotland’s vibrant food and drink sector; to very different profiles forecasting EV growth, particularly at a rural level; there are many energy trends in the north of Scotland that don’t align to the national average.

Therefore, to complement National Grid’s scenarios, we have undertaken a detailed and local forecasting project to help us better understand the likely future needs of our customers in the north of Scotland across a range of credible energy scenarios.  We believe that the additional granularity provided through localised future energy scenarios for the north of Scotland would best meet energy users’ needs, a view that was unanimously shared by our stakeholders.

Over the last 18 months, we have embarked on a journey, in close consultation with our stakeholders, to develop a range of credible and evidence based North of Scotland Future Energy Scenarios.  Focus areas of our consultations included onshore wind repowering, energy efficiency, growth of electric vehicles and new generation and storage.  Stakeholder feedback received through these consultations has been hugely insightful and has helped us to analyse trends in our network area to devise a range of future energy scenarios in our network region, the details of which have been published today in our North of Scotland Future Energy Scenarios report.

These are captured in three broad themes:

  • Proactive Decarbonisation – the most ambitious range from a climate change perspective, this would see decarbonisation targets surpassed across a range of sectors.  Crucially from a climate change perspective, this scenario would deliver a decarbonisation pathway for the north of Scotland in line with that required globally to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the Paris Agreement aspires to and which the UK is actively pursuing efforts to achieve.
  • Local Optimisation – whilst maintaining the broad ambition of the Proactive Decarbonisation scenario, the speed and scale of ambition shifts towards a greater role for local, small scale solutions, with greater emphasis placed on consumer affordability.
  • Cost Limitation – the least ambitious of the range of scenarios, a stagnant economy leads to a greatly reduced ambition to tackle climate change with affordability instead the primary focus of priority for policy makers.

By setting out what we believe to be a credible range of future energy scenarios, we are not presenting an answer or favouring one of these three as a preferred outcome.  It is for others, from national, devolved and local governments, to our generation customers and ultimately energy consumers, to determine what the future holds.  What is important from our perspective is understanding what the different scenarios look like and how we need to prepare accordingly to deliver to meet the needs and expectations of our customers and wider society.

We will now carry out further work to assess the network impacts of each of the scenarios and identify what network investments would be required to meet the scenarios, including considering smart, flexible solutions that deliver the best whole system value for consumers.

At SSEN we maintain a strong ambition to continue the good progress of recent years in enabling the transition to a low carbon economy, balanced against the need to ensure affordability for energy consumers.  As we continue to plan for our next price control, our customers, stakeholders and energy consumers will play a central role in the development of our business plan to ensure we deliver a network that meets the future needs and ambitions of wider society. 


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