An independent report has been published calling for both an acceleration and a more strategic approach to developing the UK’s electricity networks if we are to achieve the Net Zero target.
In the report to Government, Electricity Grid Commissioner Nick Winser highlights that very few transmission lines have been built over the last 30 years and that it would take 12-14 years for new lines to be commissioned. Mr Winser also states that this timeframe must be reduced by half to ensure power being generated by renewables is not squandered and to avoid the electricity network further hindering the country’s energy transition.
The report contains 18 recommendations to achieve these goals including the establishment of the Future System Operator (FSO) responsible for a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP), an update to the Energy National Policy Statements (NPS) which are “badly out of date”, an assessment of new regional flexibility markets and clear and public guidelines for community benefits.
In his written response to the Electricity Networks Commissioner, Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said:
“While good progress has been made, we recognise that further action is needed. We will build on the momentum generated from this report and target specific priority areas for immediate focus.
“We recognise the fundamental change needed and have committed to publishing an Action Plan this year in response to your recommendations.”
Connecting renewable energy projects to the grid and planning constraints are the two biggest challenges facing the deployment of the renewable energy projects required to fully transition away from the use of fossil fuels. The report has therefore been welcomed by many across the sector – below we outline some of the responses:
Merlin Hyman, CEO at Regen, commented:
“Ask anyone investing in renewable energy about the biggest challenge they face and chances are they will cite challenges with the grid. The UK’s electricity networks are critical infrastructure to end our reliance on expensive imported gas and tackle global heating.
“We, therefore, welcome the Electricity Network Commissioner’s report today setting out recommendations to halve the time to deliver grid infrastructure.
“We urge Grant Shapps and the government to implement the recommendations urgently in full. The response from the Secretary of State to the recommendations is polite and positive, but disappointingly non-committal. A net zero ready grid needs to be a national priority.
“The government and Ofgem have promised a grid Connections Action Plan this summer. This will be a key test of their commitment to action on the grid to unblock the queue of renewables, storage and electric car charging projects we urgently need to get built.”
Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the REA (Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology) said:
“The Winser Review is a hugely important call to action for Government, grid operators, Ofgem and industry alike. The report lays out the critical importance of halving the time it takes to build and connect new electricity transmission lines, while reiterating the need for better coordinated strategic network planning across stakeholders so that decision-making is significantly sped-up.
“Delays in connecting new renewable generation and energy storage assets remains one of the largest barriers to the UK’s ability to deliver a secure, affordable and decarbonised electricity system. It is also slowing our ability to build the infrastructure needed to meet the growing demand for both electric vehicle (EV) charging and the electrification of heat. Given the Government’s stated ambition to fully decarbonise the electricity grid by 2035, current connection delays in excess of 10 years are simply untenable.”
Solar Energy UK Director of Policy and Delivery Gemma Grimes said:
“We greatly support the recommendations and agree that they are needed to reduce the delivery time for strategic transmission to around seven years. Any longer than seven years risks jeopardising the attainment of net zero. The changes must be taken forward as a package to be most effective.”
“Delivering the plan ultimately depends on Ofgem, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the planning system and government as a whole, fully backing the accelerated delivery of net zero – and enabling transmission and distribution network operators rather than constraining them.”
Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation, said:
“Power from renewables is currently cheaper than power from fossil fuels, but grid connection wait times remain a national scandal. It’s brilliant to see these recommendations to streamline the UK’s grid system and we hope they can be rolled out quickly.
“The UK is on the cusp of a massive decarbonisation opportunity, to build and connect more green energy and deliver cheaper, cleaner energy to people as a result. Timing is of the essence – the need to bring down bills and boost our energy security couldn’t be more urgent.”
Claire Mack, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, said:
“The Electricity Networks Commissioner’s recommendations, coming as Scotland thinks about transformational electricity infrastructure network investment needed to facilitate the vast potential of ScotWind and a new onshore wind ambition, could not be more timely.
“These once-in-a-lifetime upgrades are indeed vital and are key to unlocking the economic benefits the clean energy transition can bring to some of Scotland’s most remote areas, as well as lower bills for everyone. As such, it is crucial that the national and international importance of grid infrastructure in facilitating the transition to net-zero is communicated to communities in areas where development is needed, and that these communities are provided with the proper means to express any concerns through the planning process.
“Today’s report makes many practical suggestions on quick wins, which we urge both governments to note and action in the coming months. With consumers and businesses facing increased energy bills driven by our reliance on imported gas there is a pressing need to increase access to cheap, popular renewable energy, which is precisely what these crucial upgrades to our decades-old electricity network infrastructure can provide.”
The report, together with the reply from government can be read in full here.