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SSE Thermal: Investing in low-carbon flexibility

© Supplied by SSE ThermalSSE Thermal
SSE Thermal's existing Keadby 1 site. Keadby 3 could be the UK's first CCS-enabled power plant.

The need to invest in our energy infrastructure has never been clearer.

Over recent weeks, and in the wake of the new British Energy Security Strategy, there has been a renewed focus on the necessity for companies to step up and play their part.

Pledges are being sought – and indeed are being made – which shows that the industry is listening. The reality, however, is that speed is of the essence if we’re to ensure net zero targets remain within reach. At SSE, we are leading the way. Towards the end of 2021, we launched our Net Zero Acceleration Programme, announcing a £12.5bn investment through to 2026 with a focus on low-carbon infrastructure. At the end of May we outlined further plans that will see us invest in excess of £24bn this decade in Great Britain’s electricity infrastructure.  Within this investment plan, there will be a rapid increase in renewables capacity, the upgrade of electricity networks and a focus on flexible generation including carbon capture and storage.

Importantly these are not empty promises; we have multiple projects – including the world’s biggest offshore windfarm – now in construction underlining our credentials as the UK’s clean energy champion. Indeed, the 2021/22 financial year saw SSE make a record investment of £2.1bn. SSE is putting its money where its mouth is and investing significantly more than it makes in profits to help speed up society’s transition to net zero.

SSE Thermal © Supplied by SSE
Catherine Raw

That clear vision, and even clearer delivery plan, is one of the many reasons I am so excited to have joined SSE Thermal as managing director in April. In the past financial year, SSE Thermal’s flexible generation fleet across the UK and Ireland played a vital role in the energy system, providing back-up when the wind didn’t blow and the sun didn’t shine. As renewables scale up over the coming years, the need for flexible generation will remain just as strong, which is why we are so determined to decarbonise our fleet.

At the same time, huge progress has been made in our efforts to deliver low-carbon flexibility, which represents a key pillar of the Net Zero Acceleration Programme and is crucial to our goal of cutting carbon intensity by 80% by 2030.

To achieve that, we have focused on two key technologies – carbon capture and storage, and hydrogen. Since April 2021, we have moved four low-carbon projects into development with Equinor, showing our commitment to being part of the net zero solution. In January, we submitted Keadby Carbon Capture Power Station and Peterhead Carbon Capture Power Station into a UK Government competition, aiming to connect into carbon capture infrastructure which is being developed in the East Coast Cluster and the Scottish Cluster.

From July, an announcement is expected from the UK Government on which projects will be taken forward to negotiations. The current commitment is to deliver at least one CCS-equipped power station by the mid-2020s, but July represents an opportunity for government to go even further and show increased ambition around carbon capture technology, which will be essential in decarbonising the flexible generation which will continue to be vital for decades to come. It is also a time when we hope to see a plan laid out for developing the transport and infrastructure network in the Scottish Cluster, which will unlock further investment from developers.

We know the transformative effect our projects will have in terms of net zero ambitions, but they will be equally transformational for the regions in which they are located. Recently, we commissioned economic impact reports into our proposed Keadby and Peterhead Carbon Capture projects, with BiGGAR Economics estimating that each will deliver £1.2bn for the UK economy. Crucially, much of that benefit will be felt within the local regions with a sizable number of jobs being created in the Humber and in Aberdeenshire as a result, supporting low-carbon careers and a fair and just transition.

Our ambitions do not stop there however. The logical next step for our business is hydrogen, which we believe has the potential to become a core pillar of the UK’s energy infrastructure and provide similar flexibility to our existing gas fleet. With our in-house expertise, prime locations within the UK’s industrial and population centres, and existing storage and power infrastructure we are able to move fast and act decisively to turn concept into reality.

That is the opportunity in front of us. At SSE Thermal, we are working tirelessly to deliver on the promise of these projects. Flexible generation is an essential ingredient in our energy mix, but we must act now to decarbonise these assets for a net zero world.

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