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Suffolk’s major role as energy producer expected to accelerate in pursuit of carbon net zero

PUBLISHED: 16:00 10 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:21 10 December 2019

Sizewell A and Sizewell B nuclear power plants marked the start of the region's major role in the energy sector Picture: SU ANDERSON

Sizewell A and Sizewell B nuclear power plants marked the start of the region's major role in the energy sector Picture: SU ANDERSON

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Energy bosses say Suffolk’s role at the “epicentre” of the industry is expected to accelerate in the years to come.

The region has seen major growth in offshore wind, including East Anglia ONE Picture:  SCOTTISHPOWER RENEWABLES/ROB HOWARTH PHOTOGRAPHYThe region has seen major growth in offshore wind, including East Anglia ONE Picture: SCOTTISHPOWER RENEWABLES/ROB HOWARTH PHOTOGRAPHY

Simon Gray, chief executive at East of England Energy Group said there was a growing demand for clean energy, to meet net zero targets, which would require substantially more offshore wind.

Although the number of new energy projects the region is facing has led campaign groups and politicians to call for a rethink of infrastructure strategy, Mr Gray has welcomed the sector's strong growth.

MORE: Campaigners unite in calling for a pause before 'onslaught' of energy projects 'devastates' region

He said the Eastern region was ideally situated to meet that need due to its proximity to London and the South East, where most energy is consumed, and the favourable conditions of the North Sea bed.

"We are in the perfect position to capitalise," he said. "Already, 52% of total established capacity is off the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk, so we are at the epicentre of offshore nationally and, as a country, we have more offshore than anywhere else, so we are the global trail blazers here."

Suffolk has been a major part of the energy industry ever since the commissioning of Sizewell A in '66, continuing with Sizewell B, which was completed in '95.

But the turn of the century brought a new dimension to the energy sector, with the first offshore wind farms. Again, the region was quick to play its part.

First commissioned was Scroby Sands, off Great Yarmouth, in 2004, followed by Gunfleet Sands off Clacton on Sea in 2010. Other North Sea projects included Race Bank, Sheringham Shoal and Dudgeon - all off the North Norfolk coast.

Over time, the scale and pace of developments has increased, with larger turbines bigger capacity and more ambitious designs.

Greater Gabbard temporarily became the world's largest wind farm, with 140 turbines - enough to power 500,000 homes - when it was built 22 miles off the Suffolk coast in 2012. Its sister project, Galloper, followed in 2018, with a further 56 turbines.

In September, the 714MW East Anglia One became the first part of the 'East Anglia Array' to generate electricity. It is expected to be fully operational next year.

East Anglia Three, a massive 172 turbine wind farm, was given consent in 2017, with construction expected to begin in 2021. It is expected to meet the energy needs of a million homes.

SPR submitted 'Development Consent Orders' in October for the remaining array projects - East Anglia One North and East Anglia Two. If approved, construction on the schemes, for 67 and 72 turbines respectively, is expected to begin in 2024/5.

Last month, SPR announced it was looking to combine the two projects with East Anglia Three, which already has planning consent, into a single delivery programme, known as The East Anglia Hub.

SPR said the three projects would have a capacity of 3,100MW, capable of providing power for 2.7 million homes.

Ross Ovens, East Anglia Hub project director at ScottishPower Renewables said: "Our East Anglia ONE project is already delivering significant benefits to East Anglia and across the UK. The East Anglia Hub will build on this, bringing further jobs, training and investment to the region.

More is to come. The Committee on Climate Change says offshore wind power will need to reach 75GW to achieve carbon net zero by 2050 - a 10-fold increase on today's production. Energy minister Claire Perry said Suffolk "could host a significant proportion of this future development" in a message to local councils in April.

Jim Crawford, Sizewell C project development director at EDF Energy  Picture: EDF ENERGYJim Crawford, Sizewell C project development director at EDF Energy Picture: EDF ENERGY

Crown Estates opened bidding on its biggest leasing opportunity in a decade in October - for up to 8.5GW of offshore projects. With East Anglia among the four regions included, it is likely to mean more projects online by 2030.

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Crown Estates said projects of up to 1.5GW will be considered - possibly paving the way for the UK's largest ever wind farm. Crown Estates hopes to award rights through round four as early as 2021 - with wind farms expected to be online towards the end of that decade.

Mr Gray said he expected to see East Anglia among the new projects lined up.

"If anything I think we will see the pace accelerating," he said, "And I think that's a good thing - there are going to be more jobs created. And if you look at towns like Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Harwich, these are former industrial towns that are in desperate need of high skilled well paid jobs. That's what the offshore sector can deliver - for two generations."

Meanwhile, consultation on round four of EDF Energy's Sizewell C nuclear power station, ended in September - with a DCO submission expected early next year.

EDF says Sizewell C is needed to "deliver the low carbon electricity the country needs to its climate commitments".

"In the future, all electricity needs to be low carbon. The Committee on Climate Change states the UK needs around 40% of the low carbon electricity to be reliable (or "firm") - available on demand, even when the wind is still or in the dark of winter," a spokesman added. "Today, the only proven "firm" and large scale low carbon technology is nuclear and it is still the largest source of low carbon electricity in the UK."

If approved, the dual reactor would be far larger than its predecessors - producing 3,340MW, equivalent to around 7% of the UK's energy and enough for six million homes.

Other projects lined up include the onshore infrastructure required to transmit power from offshore wind farms.

SPR built a 22 mile cable route from Bawdsey to Bramford to take power from the first phase of its East Anglia Array projects. And the company says it will need to build another cable route, together with a 30-acre substation at Friston for the remaining farms.

And that is not all. National Grid is also seeking to use the region for two "interconnectors" - called Nautilus and Eurolink. Interconnectors are high voltage transmission cables that allow electricity to flow between electricity markets. The projects are both in very early stages but if progressed they would see 1,400MW connections made with Belgium and Holland, providing enough power for a million homes.

Grid to become 'smarter' to cope with increased demands

Energy scientists say the electrical network will have to become "smarter" to cope with the race to reduce carbon emissions.

Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, a leading research centre for renewables, has been investigating how the grid can rise to the challenges posed by the big increase in electricity usage expected in the future.

ORE research engineer Michael Smailes said the move from fossil fuels, such as gas central heating and petrol vehicles, towards electrical alternatives would put big strains on the system.

He said the system already faced challenges as it was designed at a tine when electricity was generated in power stations close to population centres - whereas now it had to be transferred from offshore and remote areas towards towns and cities.

"So we're looking at how to optimise the infrastructure we already have ," he said. "We don't' want to build new over head lines, substation, or transformers. We want to use what's already their in a smarter way."

Examples os "smart" energy use include large energy consumers, such as supermarkets, using technology to automatically turn off fridges when temperatures are already sufficiently low. Others include using electricity to produce 'green hydrogen' from water through electrolysis, which can then be stored and used as a fuel. In the future, Mr Smailes said electric cars could also be used like batteries, which the grid could draw power from when not in use.

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