UK energy trade bodies urge policy changes to modernise electricity network, as power demand spikes amid cold snap  

Pictured: Wind turbines in Buckinghamshire

Spearheaded by Regen’s chief executive Merlin Hyman, the letter to Shapps tells of increasing delays with connecting assets such as renewable generation, battery energy storage and electric vehicle (EV) chargers to the network.

These delays, it is argued, hinder the UK’s progress towards a net-zero energy system that is cost-effective and secure. The UK is notably aiming for 95% of electricity generation to be low-carbon by 2030, increasing to 100% by 2035. At this point, unabated gas-fired power generation should be phased out. This will require a major scaling of renewables, nuclear and carbon capture.

The UK is also set to see its electricity demand increasing as sectors like heat for buildings, heat for heavy industrial processes and transportation become electrified amid the low-carbon transition.

The letter argues that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) now has a good opportunity to unblock electricity network constraints as it implements a new strategic framework for future-proofing electricity systems. As well as implementing this framework itself, it has worked with the National Grid Electricity System Operator to begin an updated review of commitments from networks to address connection-related issues.

Regulator Ofgem should set requirements for transmission and distribution network operators to increase investment in simplifying the connections progress, the letter recommends. The letter also wants to see chief executives responding to these requirements with a collaborative plan.

Signing the letter alongside Regen are representatives of Solar Energy UK, the Electricity Storage Network, Scottish Renewables, RenewableUK and the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA)

Red Thursday

The letter was sent on Wednesday (14 December) and, subsequently, Refinitiv revealed that Thursday (15 December) is likely to mark the UK’s biggest daily energy demand for 2022.

Refinitiv revealed its forecast for the day, which it is dubbing ‘Red Thursday’, entails demand for power being 10% higher than is usual for a Thursday in December. It is forecasting demand exceeding 38.9GWh per hour – a level of demand not seen since January 2019.

Residential demand for gas will be the primary driver of this demand. “Office Christmas parties and other festive activity are unlikely to off-set the impact of increased homeworking due to the weather combined with industrial action on the railways,” Refinitiv added.

It bears noting that the UK is currently experiencing colder weather than in January 2019. Met Office figures show that the average UK temperature that month was 3.7C. The daily average temperature forecast for this Thursday is -1C.

“The combination of cold weather and low wind speeds is always bullish for gas usage,” Refinitiv’s director of gas research Wayne Bryan commented.

“However, the record mild start to the winter heating season in October and November and unprecedented levels of US Liquified Natural Gas exports have put the UK and Europe in much better position storage-wise. This is especially important given the loss of Russian gas volumes, so the probability of gas shortages has weakened considerably.”

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