National Grid to unlock 10GW of distribution capacity for ‘shovel-ready’ renewables
The National Grid’s Electricity Distribution function has unveiled plans to accelerate grid connections for up to 10GW of renewable energy projects in England and Wales, in a bid to ease developers’ concerns about bottlenecks.
The department has stated that it has been working behind the scenes for months with stakeholders including Ofgem, policymakers in Westminster and project developers to plot ways of speeding up connections for low-carbon technologies.
Through a new agreement process with the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), project developers in the solar, onshore wind and battery energy storage sectors will be offered the chance to connect now using newly-added transmission network reinforcements.
Developers will need to be aware that, in return for a more rapid connection, they may face a heightened risk of curtailment in the near future. This is when projects power down when generation conditions are very favorable but demand is low. It is estimated that £1.5bn was spent to curtail wind between January 2021 and April 2023.
The chances of curtailment will decrease in the longer term as more permanent additions and improvements to network infrastructure are made.
Applications for the new arrangement process will be opened in October. Developers of projects in parts of the Midlands, South West England and the South of Wales will be eligible in the first instance.
It bears noting that National Grid is reforming its ‘first come, first served’ model to help prevent grid blocking. It will, instead, give priority to the projects in terms of the order in which they are able to connect.
National Grid Electricity Distribution’s president Cordi O’Hara called the “more agile” updated approach “a pivotal part” of the UK’s net-zero transition. The UK is notably aiming to end unabated fossil-fired electricity generation by 2035 but policymakers have repeatedly been urged to deliver a more strategic delivery plan for this vision.
O’Hara said: “Making it quicker and easier for our customers to connect to the network is a priority for us. With the volume of new connection applications soaring as the UK moves at pace to deliver net-zero, we know a ‘fit for the future’ connections process will be vital to meet current and future demand.”
Give and take
Earlier this summer, edie’s sister title Utility Week revealed that the National Grid ESO is set to offer the developers of 52 energy generation projects that are running behind schedule the chance to give up their place in the grid connections queue, without incurring cancellation charges.
Waiving these charges will cost around £40m, Utility Week has been told by ESO and Ofgem representatives. These costs will be recouped through customer bills. The costs are stated to have been lower than initially anticipated.
The latest news follows a string of big announcements from Westminster on renewable generation.
Tuesday (5 September) saw the Prime Minister confirming a streamlining of planning rules in a bid to overturn the de-facto ban on onshore wind in England, but industry experts say the changes have failed to remove all major planning process hurdles.
Then, on Friday (8 September), allocations were announced under the the latest Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction round, which had a £227m funding pot. The Government celebrated the largest number of projects to date supported, but concern and disappointment was expressed about the fact that no offshore wind projects were supported.
Offshore wind developers have been grappling with mounting supply chain costs and delays amid the price crisis. The sector has been calling for reforms to how CfD auction funding is allocated to account for this.
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