Interview with Jon Butterworth, CEO of National Grid Ventures | WindEurope
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Interview with Jon Butterworth, CEO of National Grid Ventures

We sat down with National Grid Ventures CEO Jon Butterworth to talk everything from Brexit to how we can make the North Sea a powerhouse of offshore wind energy, and the prospects of building the world’s first HVDC multi-purpose interconnector.

Can you tell our readers a little about National Grid Ventures?

National Grid Ventures was established to be the National Grid group’s growth engine for new large-scale clean energy investments in competitive markets across the UK and US.

We’re home to a growing portfolio of energy projects, technologies, and partnerships that will help to decarbonise the power sector. This includes more than £2 billion investment in 8 GW of subsea electricity interconnector capacity to enable the sharing of renewable energy between the UK and France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Denmark. In the US, we’re focused on the development of utility-scale wind and solar power projects as well as competitive offshore transmission.

It’s an exciting place to be, working with European and North American partners at the heart of the energy transition. I’m proud to be leading such a talented and passionate team.

You recently became a WindEurope member. Can you talk to us a little about why this was the right time for you to join?

We all agree the world must act now on climate change. In Europe, that means realising the North Sea’s potential to be our clean energy power station. But developing 450 GW of offshore wind will be complex, requiring an enormous amount of new infrastructure in a very challenging environment. We need to get out of our traditional silos to enable the significant cross-sectoral and cross-border cooperation required to get this done. 

I recognise there’ll be some raised eyebrows to a Brit making this point, particularly given the uncertainty we still face with Brexit. But the reality for me is that no matter where we end up politically, we must continue to act in the best interests of consumers across the UK and the rest of Europe. Our view has not changed at all. National Grid continues to be committed to working with our close friends and neighbours to jointly develop, build and operate the infrastructure that our societies and economies need.

As experienced developers and operators of subsea transmission projects in Europe, as well as wind power in the US, it was an easy decision for us to join WindEurope. We’ve invested significant amounts of money and time to connect the UK with mainland Europe. We want to build on that and deliver better ways to maximise the potential of the North Sea. To do that, we need to work more closely with the wind industry. There is no better way to do that then via WindEurope.

What are the most exciting developments you have seen in the wind industry?

The last year has been remarkable, with a youthful global grassroots revolution serving as a catalyst for governments to act more quickly and decisively on the climate emergency. The EU last week launched its Green New Deal, setting out the pathways to achieve net-zero.

This follows on from the UK becoming the first major economy to pass a net-zero emissions law this summer. Across the Atlantic we’ve also seen the adoption of net-zero targets in New York, and North-eastern states have established targets to procure over 20 GW of offshore wind. We welcome these targets, but none of us should underestimate the size of the challenge ahead.

The wind industry will play a central role in eliminating carbon from the power sector globally. In particular, offshore wind, which has matured significantly in recent years, will deliver the massive scale of clean gigawatts we need to be successful in Europe. I firmly believe the North Sea can become a world leading global hub for offshore wind, driven by cooperation between North Sea countries and experienced developers. We very much want to be a part of that.

What changes would you like to see in the wind industry?

We need a joint strategy at European level to develop the North Sea. Cooperation between countries and a common regulatory framework are key. The Commission, North Sea rim countries, and their regulators need to work together more closely with our industry. We all have a responsibility to make this happen.

Going forward, what role do you see National Grid Ventures playing in the future development of wind energy?

Over the last 15 years, we’ve been working closely with other European TSO partners, governments, regulators, the supply chain and local communities to develop electricity interconnectors.

Point-to-point interconnectors will be increasingly important in moving excess renewable generation to where it’s needed most, ensuring no electrons are wasted. But looking forward, we want to be part of the evolution of the North Sea, designing transmission solutions that maximise offshore wind while minimising the impact of new projects on coastal communities. Our view is that this should include multi-purpose interconnectors, which could connect offshore wind clusters. In the US, our large-scale renewable development company has delivered over 2 GW of onshore wind.

We’ll continue to build onshore wind projects and also take an active role in ensuring the success of the US offshore wind industry, by enabling the transmission infrastructure needed to connect and deliver offshore wind.

If we look ten years ahead, what do you hope to have achieved?

In Europe, I’d like our industry to have made significant progress on the delivery of a fully connected North Sea grid.

From our perspective, I’d like National Grid and its partners to have delivered the world’s first HVDC multi-purpose interconnector – to connect offshore wind farms in the North Sea to multiple countries. In the US, we want to have developed at least 4 GW of new wind projects. We know we’ll need significant coordination to achieve our targets.

That’s why I’m so delighted we’re now a member of WindEurope. I’m really looking forward to seeing what we’re able to achieve together.

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