Future Energy Grids for Wales

The Senedd Cymru has set the highly ambitious target for Wales to reach Net Zero by 2050. Welsh Government intends to establish Wales as a global leader both in technologies that will power the future, and in global responsibility.

But Wales’ Net Zero ambitions require a re-examination of the infrastructure needed to deliver rapid and effective change, and to ensure Wales’ citizens are not left behind because of infrastructure designed for past needs.

The Welsh Government appointed Energy Systems Catapult, as an independent and trusted body, to develop scenarios of the various paths Wales could take to decarbonise the energy system, drawing on the perspectives of a wide range of people across Wales.

The Challenge

The Senedd Cymru (Welsh Government) aims to establish Wales as a global leader in technologies that will power the future and to be the first country to have a joint approach to developing gas and electricity networks.

The Minister for Climate Change announced a project – Future Energy Grid for Wales (FEW) – to establish the future requirements for the Welsh energy grid. The project aimed to generate whole energy system scenarios for Wales, based on common assumptions and consistent with the wider UK energy system, yet reflecting the unique characteristics and opportunities for the Welsh energy system.

This work will inform Future Wales: the National Plan 2040′, and provide robust evidence to enable network operators to plan and build the networks we will need for Net Zero and the interim 2030 targets.

The Solution

Energy Systems Catapult used their Energy Systems Modelling Environment (ESME) to develop future scenarios for a Net Zero Welsh energy system by 2050. These scenarios, including different sensitivities, were supported by a review of existing evidence and engagement with network operators, Ofgem, and the Welsh Government.  There were two baseline whole energy system scenarios developed for Wales called ‘Technology-Optimistic’ and ‘Societally Optimistic’, which each focus respectively on a narrative with success in technology innovation and improved consumer awareness and engagement.

The work was carried out alongside a programme of detailed Local Area Energy Planning (LAEP) work across Wales, and the two projects will use the same evidence and assumptions.

Energy Systems Catapult utilised our internationally peer-reviewed Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) – the UK’s leading techno-economic whole system model – that regularly provides in-depth evidence for industry, academia, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and Government.

ESME is independent of sector interests and identifies least cost-optimised decarbonisation pathways across the whole system.

This includes the complex interactions of power, gas, heat, and transport and the different ways in which our energy might be supplied, managed and consumed in the future. Constraints include net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets, resource availability and technology deployment rates, as well as operational factors that ensure adequate system capacity and flexibility.

Recent experience includes developing Net Zero scenarios for the UK as a whole within the Innovating to Net Zero (ITNZ) project, work for the Scottish Government and Wales and West Utilities.

The Process

1. Stakeholder Engagement

Energy Systems Catapult worked with the Welsh Government, network companies and Ofgem to agree common assumptions and modelling requirements and a broader stakeholder group established to test outputs at key moments in the project.

2. Evidence Review

To develop a robust evidence base we reviewed the plans of network operators and existing literature, relevant either in geography, subject matter and/or approach. We then talked to relevant study authors and experts from Welsh Government, academia, and/or other informed organisations (e.g. Climate Change Committee) with expertise in scenario development, sectors, modelling, and/or networks.

3. Modelling Assumptions and Requirements

Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME) used thousands of assumptions informed by tens of millions of pounds of primary research and peer-reviewed secondary research. Key ESME assumptions were tested with the network companies operating in Wales to ensure transparency underpinned the scenarios and subsequent modelling.

4. Analysis and scenarios model / framework

Data and feedback from Steps 1 and 2 were brought together with our ESME assumptions to provide a draft set of Welsh Energy System Goals and Key Questions to address. There were assessed with Welsh Government and network companies.

5. Whole system modelling

Using ESME, pathways to 2050 were produced in 5-year periods for our baseline whole energy system scenarios. Initial model runs tested the scenarios, then subject matter specialists undertook analysis of the output to develop initial insights and highlight areas for iteration. This insights were shared with stakeholders to identify areas to refine before a final iteration.

Once the scenarios were settled we used the unique functionality of our ESME model to test scenario robustness and our ESME Networks tool to provide more regional-focused insights specific to Wales.

6. Action Plan

Our final report took the information gathered and generated via our models, and then analysed this to develop recommendations, insights and implications for networks, Ofgem, Welsh Government and UK Government to be considered for optimal, long-term whole system network planning and operation.

The Outputs

The Future Energy Grids for Wales report:

  • Consolidates a broad view, across the network companies operating in Wales, of the Net Zero compliant Welsh future energy system pathways to 2050
  • Identifies the key implications for electricity and gas network operators and steps needed to develop energy networks in Wales as part of the wider UK energy system
  • Provides recommendations for the Welsh Government to take forward, consistent with its ambitions to accelerate decarbonisation and role in the energy governance landscape.

Key findings

Achieving Net Zero requires a fundamental change in how the Welsh energy system is planned, developed, integrated and operated. Carbon Budgets and infrastructure and market lead times, mean many actions are needed soon.

Key changes and impacting factors include:

  • Significant network reinforcement will be required across electricity distribution and transmission networks, driven by increases in peak demand and renewables.
  • Substantial electrification across heat, transport and industry (annual electricity demand rose by up to 20TWh by 2050 in the scenarios assessed), but there are challenges with meeting peak demands, particularly peak heat –other technology options need to be explored.
  • A large increase in renewable deployment in Wales (up to 6.6GW in 2030 and 18.2GW by 2050).
  • The scale and production method for hydrogen which has a significant impact on the whole energy system, (e.g. green hydrogen increases electricity demand).

The reports set out 12 recommendations and detail on the implications for energy networks in Wales.

Read the Insight Reports

Future Energy Grid Wales - Insights Report

Read the Technical Report

Future Energy Gridd Wales - Technical Report

The Impact

Welsh Government welcomed the FEW report in the Siambr

“The Welsh Government is delighted to publish our next step in providing that certainty. The Future Energy Grids for Wales Report sets out the results of taking a whole systems approach to identify the requirements for gas and electricity networks. We believe Wales is the first country to take this holistic approach across power, heat and transport.”

“This report has important implications for everyone in Wales and we want to proactively communicate the findings and implications.”

Julie James MS, Welsh Government, Minister for Climate Change

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The National Infrastructure Commission Wales

The National Infrastructure Commission for Wales is an independent advisory body that gives recommendations on the infrastructure Wales needs. It published the Preparing Wales for a Renewable Energy 2050 report in October 2023 which highlights:

The recently published Future Energy Grids for Wales report, setting out a whole systems approach to identify the requirements for gas and electricity networks, is an excellent first step and shows the Welsh Government can add value in this non-devolved area.

A second quote in the same report:

“Most recently, the Welsh Government has produced its Future Energy Grids for Wales report. This report sets out the results of taking a whole systems approach to identify the requirements for gas and electricity networks. We recognise and commend the Welsh Government’s ambition in this area.”

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BBC News report

BBC News Wales cited the Future Energy Grids for Wales report in their investigation into the future of energy generation schemes across Wales, citing 44 currently operational wind farms and 123 solar farms, according to research by the CPRW, and the locations of a further 34 wind farms and 92 solar farms being proposed.

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Whole Systems Modelling

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