Why accelerating grid connections is essential for reaching net-zero goals
As the country powers towards net-zero, Lawrence Slade, Chief Executive of the Energy Networks Association, argues action is needed to respond to an unprecedented number of new connection applications and ensure a grid fit for future challenges.
The UK’s energy network serves as the foundation for the infrastructure and technology the country needs to reach net-zero. We have worked hard to keep pace with grid connection requests. In the last eight years, network operators have connected more than 50GW of renewable energy projects. However, while the conveyor belt of projects being connected to the grid continues, jams are clearly now forming in some areas. Every day, new projects are connected, but network operators are clear on the scale of the challenge. More than 160GW of new connection requests were received in the year to October 2022 – around three times more than peak demand. I would argue that improving and accelerating customer connections to our electricity grid is the single biggest barrier energy generators, storage operators, the regulator, the government, and our energy networks face as the country decarbonises. It is vital we work together to increase the pace of connections.
In recent months, the issue has grown in prominence. We’ve heard from customers who have been daunted by the length of time they’ve been quoted to bring them on to the grid. The sector is already working hard to address the issue. Energy Networks Association (ENA) published our Connections Action Plan, National Grid ESO published their Five Point Plan to accelerate connections at the transmission level, and the regulator has committed to working constructively with industry to bring ideas forward, including removing projects from the queue which are not progressing but hold up space for others that are ready. These sets of solutions are complementary, necessary and should serve to speed up connections here and now, but they are not sufficient, as we need government support to deliver the strategic changes for connections speed to reach the required pace.
The ENA action plan outlines three key actions we’re taking, based on our conversations with the industry and the customers our members serve. The first means delivering a more flexible system for managing the queue of schemes waiting to get a grid connection, based on the principle of changing from a ‘first come, first served’ to a ‘first ready, first connected’ model. The second recommendation is to improve the coordination between transmission and distribution network operators to speed up processes and reform the way transmission network infrastructure work is triggered. Thirdly, we want to offer greater flexibility and contractual options for developers aiming to connect projects that store power.
“More than 160GW of new connection requests were received in the year to October 2022 – around three times more than peak demand"
Though all are important steps, they will only get us some way towards delivering connections at the pace needed to meet the demands of net-zero. The government needs to provide long-term clarity around its net-zero roadmap to ensure network operators can attract the investment the UK energy system needs to accelerate connections. Equally, changes to the connection queue need to be matched by a wider process of reform around how connections decisions are made, particularly streamlining the planning process. We have clearly stated the current planning framework is not fit for purpose and without planning reform, connections reform risks becoming an academic exercise.
ENA and our members know that it is only through joint work between industry, Ofgem and the government that we can achieve our goals. To facilitate this work, we are publishing a strategic Connections Plan later this year and we are hosting an event in Parliament on the 19 July 2023, to meet with policy makers and hear their views.
The sprint to meet connection demand is just one stage in the net-zero marathon – in the years ahead, it’s essential for energy policy makers and decision takers to fully consider the 2035 power decarbonisation and longer-term net-zero targets if the UK is to win this race. In the next few years, network operators are set to mobilise more than £22bn of investment into the UK’s electricity distribution infrastructure to help ensure the energy network supports everyone in making their net-zero transition. We want to work closely with government to ensure this money creates a grid fit for future challenges, and that customers can benefit from an internationally leading decarbonised energy grid.
Find out more about the work of the UK’s energy network operators and the Connections Action Plan by visiting www.energynetworks.org
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