Back to Basics, Part 3: The Grid - Pager Power
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Back to Basics, Part 3: The Grid

Back to Basics, Part 3: The Grid
March 19, 2024 Tori Harvey

In the third instalment of our 2024 ‘Back to Basics‘ series, we look at one aspect of the renewable energy transition in more detail – electricity networks.

Electricity grids are responsible for the generation, transmission, storage, and distribution of power across and between nations [1]. A distribution network resembles a tree. Power flows from a ‘root’ (a supply point), along ‘branches’ and ‘twigs’ (high- and low-voltage lines and cables) out to the ‘leaves’ (consumers). There is little interconnection between branches. The networks have been designed primarily to convey power from supply points to consumers (‘one way flow’) [2]. 

Electrification of the UK

Electrification began in the late 1800s, after the invention of electric street lighting proved to be both brighter and safer than gas. At the turn of the 20th century, newly formed electric utility companies took heed and began to introduce central power stations. Initially these were static and supplied electricity to a limited area, but as lightbulbs, radios, and toasters became more affordable, the need for a robust national supply network became apparent. By 1934, development of the UK’s National Grid was well under way. Access to electricity within the home continued to increase rapidly and by 1948, 85% of the country was successfully connected to the grid [3]. Today, it is estimated that over 90% of the global population has access to electricity [4].

Moving to Consistent Energy Supply

A major aspect of the renewable energy transition is ensuring that electricity grids are now adapted to enable consistent energy supply to nations across the globe. The sun does not always shine, nor is there consistent gale force winds blowing (we hope). Due to the somewhat unpredictable nature of renewable energy sources, it has been highlighted that current grid structures may not provide an adequate level of flexibility to ensure consistent supply to consumers. Steadily increasing demand, driven by electrification, adds to the pressure for efficient grid upgrades, with a prediction that there will be 23 times more electric vehicles needing connection for charging by 2035 [6]. In addition, we are seeing huge incentives for homes to be equipped with low carbon technologies such as heat pumps, to replace fossil fuel heating systems [7]. Heavy industry may also begin to see a shift in favour of clean power, where possible [8]. 

Figure 1: Electricity pylon and cables. [12]

Grid Upgrades

Back in 2007, the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produced a POSTnote that predicted the following two decades would see:

  • Increased investment in network renewal and connection of new generation,
  • Delays in obtaining connections in Scotland and offshore may impede the connection of renewables,
  • Government aims to reform planning law to streamline major electricity projects such as Grid upgrades,
  • The effectiveness of government incentives will influence the extent to which distribution networks are adapted to accept more small-scale generation [2].

Link in Clean Energy Transitions

Over 15 years later, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is concerned that a ‘lack of ambition and attention risks making electricity grids the weak link in clean energy transitions’ [9]. This applied across the globe, not just in the UK. The data gathered by the IEA estimates that the world needs to add or replace 80 million km of grids by 2040. In monetary terms, this translates to doubling investments to more than £490bn a year by 2030 in order to align with national climate targets [9]. 

There does appear to be some response in motion in the UK. The government recently set out £960mil to accelerate manufacturing in key net zero sectors. The underlying strategy includes operating a ‘first-ready, first-connected’ approach, supporting viable projects to connect as soon as they go live. There is also an increase in incentives for communities to receive considerable discounts on energy bills for hosting new power infrastructure [10]. In conjunction, the National Grid launched a new initiative in December 2023 – ‘Great Grid Upgrade’. Within this, numerous projects are already underway, focused on connecting more renewable energy to homes and businesses across the UK. Specifically, efforts are being made to accelerate engineering works that will allow connection dates for 175 clean energy projects in South West England and Wales to be bought forward by up to four years [11].

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[1] Wikipedia, Electrical grid, Last accessed: 15/03/2024, Available at:

[2] Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Electricity in the UK (POSTnote), February 2007, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at:

[3] National Grid, Everything you ever wanted to know about electricity pylons, 28 March 2023, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at: 

[4] Our World In Data, Access to Energy, (revised) January 2024, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at: 

[5] Hive Power, Grid stability issues with renewable energy sources: How they can be solved, March 2021, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at: 

[6] National Grid, Delivering for 2035: Upgrading the grid for a secure, clean and affordable energy future, May 2023, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at: 

[7] Gov UK, Apply for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme: Overview, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at:

[8] Jillian Ambrose, ‘It’s like buying an iPhone and not having a cable’: UK’s bid for net zero in the balance due to grid ‘blind spot’, November 2023, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at:

[9] IEA, Lack of ambition and attention risks making electricity grids the weak link in clean energy transitions, October 2023, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at:

[10] UK Gov, (press release) Huge boost for UK green industries with £960 million government investment and major reform of power network, November 2023, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at: 

[11] National Grid, National Grid fast-tracks overhead line upgrade project to help accelerate connection dates of 175 clean energy projects, December 2024, Accessed on: 15/003/2024, Available at:

[12] Pixels (Chuttersnap), Black steel electric post, Accessed on: 15/03/2024, Available at:


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