Mark Waldron has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of switchgear and substation equipment in a transmission utility environment. His present role in National Grid is Net Zero Asset Strategy Technical Leader, with a particular focus upon SF6 management and SF6 alternatives in the context of National Grid’s wider responsible business commitments and ambitions, and the role of electricity transmission in facilitating the future energy system.
Hello Mr. Waldron. Could you please briefly describe yourself and your role at National Grid? I’m an electrical engineer with over 30 years’ transmission utility experience of high voltage substation equipment, particularly switchgear. As Technical Leader for Net Zero Asset Strategy within National Grid Electricity Transmission I focus on the strategic roadmap for our transmission system assets, and how these assets contribute to our environmental commitments and ambitions. A key focus is responsible management of SF6 and technology solutions that can eliminate SF6 inventory and emissions.
What are some of the key challenges that TSOs are facing today with respect to ecofriendly power networks? Our macro challenges include connecting increasing amounts of renewable energy, managing the environmental impact of our network, and supporting long-term decarbonization goals e.g. heat and transport. Our environmental action plan addresses topics including net-zero carbon emissions, minimization of waste, sustainable use of materials and care for the natural environment. Focusing on carbon emissions, SF6 emission is the biggest contributor to climate change under our direct control and is a key focus area for us.
How are Nationalgrid trying to overcome such challenges? Our SF6 commitment is to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 from 2019 levels and we have set an ambition to eliminate SF6 from our assets by 2050. We have a policy not to use SF6 where alternatives are available. Best practice management of SF6 and progressive replacement of SF6 inventory require a portfolio of techniques; prevention, repair, refurbishment, conversion (retro-fill) and replacement. SF6-free technology for conversion & replacement is becoming commercially available. A range of solutions now exist for our 132kV network but a full portfolio of 400kV options is still in development and we work closely with suppliers to accelerate development.
Generally speaking, what are your strategy to reduce the carbon footprint? By utility standards technology is moving rapidly and questions remain around technology diversity, long-term asset performance and ownership, and future developments in EHS legislation. We must meet our net zero targets, but we must do so by taking a holistic, societal view of the role of electricity networks, accounting for the needs of all stakeholders, and using robust life cycle and carbon assessment techniques. For example, global warming potential of gases is a critical parameter, but not the only one!