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Grid constraints hinder the energy transition

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Limited grid capacity is dramatically slowing the development of renewable energy projects and our overall transition to a clean energy society according to Vattenfall Network Solutions’ Suzanna Lashford.

In comments mirroring those made by experts at the recent Low Carbon Agriculture Show, Ms Lashford points to “one major roadblock” to the country’s clean energy plans – the limited and rapidly diminishing capacity available the UK power grid, despite unprecedented demand for renewable energy and UK Government’s energy decarbonisation strategies being hugely reliant on renewables such as solar, wind and hydropower. 

According to a recent report from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), British-based renewable energy systems generated more electricity than gas over the Winter and are on course to be our primary source of electricity. Despite this, the need for greater energy security and the Government’s aim to decarbonise the whole electricity system by 2035, many new projects are being placed on hold due to the grid capacity issues.

Backlogs

The National Grid has warned those looking to secure new connections in England and Wales that they will have to wait in line behind some 600 other projects – collectively compromising of 176GW of energy – creating a backlog of more than a decade. Billions of pounds of private investment is reportedly being delayed as a result, as is the country’s transition to a clean energy society. Suzanna Lashford points out that this problem will only spiral in the coming years, given that the UK’s electricity demand is expected to at least double by 2050:

“As it stands, grid-blocking is restricting hundreds of credible projects from achieving their renewable energy potential, thwarting the efforts of those who are ready to fully commit to the net zero transition,” she says. “If the UK wants to meet its targets, wider plans must be initiated to improve capacity and lessen delays. Connections would need to be looked at on a regional basis to enable the UK to analyse where demand is, and place generation close to demand to help stabilise those local areas.”

“The National Grid ESO has publicly acknowledged that the current connection process has ‘not kept pace with the rapid changes occurring in the energy sector’ , and recognised that the common consensus across the country is that the process is no longer fit for purpose. Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) are currently drawing on new, more flexible approaches to managing their network and enabling connections via curtailment offers, which offer users the opportunity to gain some of their required capacity now and some later, in a bid to release capacity in constrained areas and free up space on the grid. But such changes are not yet guaranteed, and may take years to put in motion.”

While certain developers may be able to afford the longer time scales for a grid connection, smaller organisations with more limited funds will struggle. It is understood that some developers are being offered connections much further away from the site in question, but these only add to the overall projects’ costs.

Given the critical need to address both energy security and climate change, urgent action must be taken to solve these grid capacity issues, to allow the country to fully transition away from fossil fuels and achieve its’ Net Zero ambitions. 

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