Wales aims to meet electricity demand with renewables by 2035, says ‘step-change’ needed to ready grid
The Welsh Government is consulting on a new ambition to meet 100% of its electricity demand with renewables by 2035. In the same week, it has acknowledged MPs’ concerns about the need to upgrade grid infrastructure.
The new renewables target was outlined by Welsh Climate Change Minister Julie James on Tuesday (24 January) and would mark the first update to this target since 2017. Notably, the UK Government legislated for net-zero by 2050 by 2019, meaning that Wales’ old renewables goal was not designed with net-zero in mind.
“Our previous targets signalled our high ambitions for renewable energy and this Government’s desire to move away from a use of, and reliance on, fossil fuels,” James said.
“However, the climate crisis shows that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Providing new targets compels us to stride towards net-zero as quickly as we realistically can.”
James called the new target “ambitious but credible” and emphasised the importance of meeting electricity demand with local generation as more renewables come online. This can come with the benefit of local job creation and keeping economic benefits within Wales.
To support the target, Wales is proposing the creation of at least 1.5GW of locally-owned renewable energy capacity by 2035. This excludes heat pumps. It will include community-owned and Welsh-owned solar and wind arrays, plus marine energies.
At present, 55% of electricity generation in Wales comes from renewable sources. The majority of the remainder is accounted for by gas.
James emphasised that closing the gap would require changes to regulation, plus investment in better infrastructure and localized supply chains. There will also be a need to scale-up finding for innovative, next-generation renewables.
To that end, Associated British Ports has this week announced that it will match £1m of funding offered by the Welsh Government for research into the potential of offshore floating wind. The finding will be spent in the Port Talbot area as part of the industrial hub’s decarbonisation plans.
Floating wind turbines enable wind farms to be built further out at sea, in deeper waters. They may also present opportunities to innovate in more material resource-efficient turbines and to improve the relationship between marine ecosystems and wind farms.
Earlier this month, the Crown Estate signed agreements for lease with the developers of the 1.5GW Mona offshore wind farm in northern Wales.
Grid capacity boost
Less than a day after James announced the consultation, the UK Government published its response to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s Grid Capacity in Wales report.
Published last year after rounds of written and oral submissions from experts, the report warned that Welsh electricity grid infrastructure will need significant investment as electricity demands increase in line with population growth, urbanization and the electrification of sectors like heating and transport.
At the same time, more renewables will come online, meaning that more energy storage will be needed to overcome the intermittent nature of renewable generation.
The UK Government’s response to the report acknowledges that there will need to be a “step-change” in grid capacity in Wales. The Committee is pleased that the response agrees with the report’s recommendations on streamlining grid connection permitting and reducing grid connection and reinforcement costs. Costs will be reduced from April 2023, the response confirms.
However, the Committee is disappointed that the UK Government has not responded to the specific recommendation of setting deadlines to drive strategic planning. It has not committed to produce an agreed assessment of current electricity grid capacity, as the report recommended.
The UK is looking into grid capacity on a non-devolved level through the Energy Bill, but the Committee had hoped for something more specific with a set timeline.
Welsh Affairs Committee chair Stephen Crabb MP said: “The UK Government’s acknowledgement of the constraints of the current electricity grid, and its pledge to work to further accelerate grid capacity, is welcome. If this is not addressed, and as highlighted in our report, failure to get the grid up to standard for net zero poses a threat to economic growth for communities across Wales.
“It is promising news that the UK Government has a plan in place to address the ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma where developers wait for others to foot the costs of connection before they commit to building energy infrastructure.
“Our Committee also welcomes the recognition that the current system in which rural communities are seeing increased bills as a result of having to share grid reinforcement costs is not equitable, and we are encouraged to hear that the UK Government will be introducing measures to ensure rural communities are no longer unduly burdened.
“While this is a largely positive response to our Committee’s work, we are disappointed that an assessment of current grid capacity in Wales does not seem to be forthcoming. It will be difficult to realise the exciting opportunities for renewable projects in Wales if they are unable to be plugged into a fully-functioning grid.”
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