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There can be no COP outs on the road to net zero

05 Jul 2021

From Peterhead on the Aberdeenshire coast all the way down to Medway in the South-East of England, we’re proud of the role our power stations play in keeping the lights on for our homes, businesses, and communities. This has perhaps never been truer than over the past 14 months, as our critical workers have continued to attend our control rooms to keep vital power flowing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, we’re acutely aware that the role of thermal power generation is changing beyond recognition. With our colleagues in SSE Renewables currently building more offshore wind than anyone else in the world, we’re fully behind the shift to a renewables-led energy system. The role of our power stations will increasingly become about providing back-up generation when the wind doesn’t blow, or the sun doesn’t shine.

"We’re committed to going further to rapidly remove the carbon emissions from our thermal fleet and ensure the UK’s back-up power is low-carbon in its own right."

Stephen Wheeler, SSE Thermal Managing Director

We’re investing in cutting-edge technologies to address the underlying challenge of low-carbon flexible generation, while safeguarding jobs and investment in industrial regions.

We’ve taken some big steps to decarbonise our fleet in recent years, including closing our last coal-fired plant five years ahead of the national target. In our last financial year, the carbon intensity of the electricity generated by our thermal plants reached its lowest level since records began. This means we’re well on our way to meeting SSE’s science-based targets for carbon reduction, independently assessed and aligned to the Paris Agreement.

Now, with no time to lose in the fight against climate change, we are working to develop the low-carbon power stations of the future. As we look ahead to the crucial climate talks in Glasgow this year, of which SSE is a proud partner, there is no place for greenwashing or cop outs, pun intended. We need to deliver the solutions needed to make net zero a reality, and that includes the tough stuff. In other words, decarbonising thermal power generation and the harder-to-reach sectors of the economy while ensuring a just transition for workers and communities.

As we close older unabated power stations over the next decade, we plan to use our sites to develop the new low-carbon generation the UK needs to keep the lights on in a net zero world. That means using cutting-edge carbon capture technology to remove CO2 from emissions, or by using hydrogen as a fuel, rather than natural gas. This will be made possible by the development of the shared regional pipelines being proposed by the likes of Zero Carbon Humber in the North of England and the Acorn Project in Scotland. The UK’s independent and renowned Climate Change Committee is clear these technologies will play a vital role in the transition to a net zero future.  The UK’s independent Climate Change Committee is clear these technologies will play a vital role in the transition to a net zero future. All governments across the UK are also in favour – that’s why we are working with them to develop business models for carbon capture and hydrogen projects as quickly as possible.The governments in Westminster and Holyrood are also of this view, and that’s why we’re working with them to develop business models for carbon capture and hydrogen projects as quickly as possible.

For our part, we are currently progressing a number of low-carbon power projects with our partners in Equinor. At our Keadby site in the Humber region, for instance, we are developing plans for one of the UK’s first power stations with carbon capture technology, and the world’s first major 100% hydrogen-fuelled power station. Meanwhile, we’re working to develop a new carbon capture-equipped power station at our iconic Peterhead site on the Aberdeenshire coast, which will decarbonise Scotland’s only major thermal generation site.

As well as providing essential low-carbon power, these projects can act as key early customers for carbon capture and hydrogen infrastructure in industrial regions, which other users can then plug into to decarbonise. This will enable industries that are the backbone of regional economies to transition to net zero, safeguarding and creating thousands of high-quality jobs and delivering new, sustainable investment.

Our industry is undergoing an essential transformation and I’m proud SSE is leading the charge with science-based targets, billions committed in green investment, and a growing pipeline of world-leading low-carbon infrastructure projects. In SSE Thermal, we will continue to play our part, providing the flexible and reliable energy needed today, while powering the change needed for tomorrow.