Ofgem proposes system reforms to connect more low-carbon projects to the grid

Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley has pledged to deliver an urgent reform of the queuing system for energy projects, after research warned that some clean energy projects would have to wait up to 15 years to connect to the grid.

Ofgem proposes system reforms to connect more low-carbon projects to the grid

The reforms should be in place in the next two years

In a written statement to energy bosses, the Ofgem chief executive has stated he will overhaul the system for energy projects in the next two years, claiming that the current “first-come, first-served system” was not fit for purpose to enable the grid to transition to zero-carbon energy.

“It is unacceptable energy projects are blocking great low-carbon schemes from plugging into the transmission network – with connection times of a decade or more,” Brearley said. “Ambitious targets are empty words if we can’t get this right. It’s like promising everyone an electric car today but stopping them driving it until 2033.

“We’re dealing with the immediate backlog working with National Grid and industry. It’s good news connection times will be cut by up to 10 years alongside other fixes to deal with bottlenecks head on – but we need to go further and faster in the long-term.”

The proposed reforms are yet to be detailed, but Ofgem did say it would be completed within two years. It will combat major issues that prevent schemes from connecting to the grid, with Ofgem citing that 60% to 70% of the 600 plus approved high voltage transmission schemes never connect to the grid. Of those schemes in the queue, more than half have to wait five years before being offered connection dates and 70% of the applications approved in the last 12 months are facing connection dates of five years or more, while 25% have proposed connection dates beyond 2030.

Earlier this month, the BBC reported that some new solar and wind projects have waiting times of between 10 and 15 years, due to a lack of capacity in the system, with up to £200bn in clean energy projects currently facing these waiting times.

The BBC’s research, based on figures from the National Grid, suggests that around 40% of these projects face a connection wait of at least a year. The Government is due to deliver a new strategy to speed up connections, but that is not arriving until later in the year.

Brearley argued that these connection delays are the biggest risk facing grid decarbonisation by 2030, when 50GW of power will need to come from offshore wind and 70GW from solar by 2035.

The Government stated in 2021 that it intends to shift all electricity generation to clean sources by 2035. This would mean the entirety of the nation’s electricity generation mix would be accounted for by renewables – primarily wind and solar – as well as nuclear.

However, the UK is currently off-track to transform its power system to net-zero by 2035, according to a report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) that calls for better planning policies on infrastructure, batteries, flexibility and consumer demand.

Project pipelines

In response, the National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO) outlined plans to speed up grid connections for projects. The plan would enable project developers to leave the planning queue and create new contracts based on whether sites are able to store electricity and connect to the grid faster.

According to the Guardian, 70% of the pipeline of projects that have a connection date beyond 2026 “would be able to connect between two and 10 years earlier because of the changes”.

National Grid has kept records of the UK’s electricity generation mix since 1970, when renewables represented just under 2% of the total. The majority of this was attributable to pumped hydro. Last month, 46% of Britain’s electricity generation was attributable to zero-carbon sources, a term used to describe both nuclear and renewables. Wind was the biggest contributor.

That means that the UK has generated more than one trillion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity over the past 50 years, and will reach the next trillion within five years.

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