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National Grid CEO: Data centre power demand to soar six-fold by 2035

Image: Adobe Stock / Yingyaipumi

The UK data centre industry is set to require six times the amount of power that it consumes today by 2035, according to John Pettigrew, Group CEO of National Grid. 

During the recent Aurora Forum held in Oxford, an event that brought together key leaders in the UK energy sector, Pettigrew warned, “Today, just like in the 1950s, we find ourselves with a network that’s constrained.

“Demand on the grid is growing dramatically, and forecast to double by 2050 as heat, transport and industry continue to electrify. Future growth in foundational technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing will mean larger scale, energy-intensive computing infrastructure.

“Demand from commercial data centres will increase six-fold, just in the next 10 years – and in homes, there will be an increasing shift towards heat pumps and electric vehicles. And so, as we consider the increasing constraints on the current ‘supergrid’, we’re once again at a pivotal moment. A moment in time that requires innovative thinking and bold actions to create a transmission network for tomorrow’s future.”

Questioning what the future of the electrical grid looks like in the UK, Pettigrew added, “The grid is evolving incrementally, with significant upgrades already underway to deliver against the current expectations of the nation and indeed the planet. But what happens when those expectations change?

“When tomorrow’s needs are no longer the ones we identified today, and when the generations of tomorrow start looking to their future? Expanding the network incrementally inevitably means there will be limits on how much can be built, how quickly it can be built and where.

“So, what are the ambitious, alternative options for the network beyond 2050 – for a future-ready, capacity-rich, net zero grid? For a grid that’s built not with the next 20 years in mind, but the next 60? These are some of the questions that we, at National Grid, have been asking.”

One proposal put forward by Pettigrew is the development of a ‘super-supergrid’, an ultra-high voltage onshore transmission network of up to 800 thousand volts that would be superimposed on the existing supergrid. 

“This new grid would enable bulk power transfers around the country, with strategically located ultra-high capacity substations, supporting the connection of big energy sources to big demand centres via the new network,” he explained. 

“This model consolidates infrastructure by connecting the larger capacity hubs in the places they’re most needed. It is both a strategic and proactive approach instead of today’s incremental, tactical and reactive one.”

It would also represent the biggest overhaul to the National Grid since the 1950s, although Pettigrew cautioned it wouldn’t replace the piecemeal upgrades that are currently being undertaken. 

“This is not instead of the infrastructure we’re delivering today and investments we’re making right now, this is in addition. It doesn’t change the need for ‘The Great Grid Upgrade’. It certainly doesn’t change the need for immediate, urgent reform to the connections process, which we’re working tirelessly with Ofgem, the ESO and industry to enable. All of these, and so much more, remain critical, as does a continued clear-eyed focus on the targets we’re all so familiar with,” he concluded. 

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