Ofgem announce plans to tackle huge delays in grid connection for renewable energy

When the BBC published their research into to the calamitous state of affairs that has led to £200bn worth of renewable energy projects sitting in the connections queue, everyone looked up. What the research found was so patently ridiculous that you didn’t need to be interested in green energy to pay attention.

Seen alongside the fact that the UK intends that all of its electricity is carbon-free by 2035, the fact that some Octopus Energy projects are in a 15 year queue for grid connection beggared everyone’s belief.

In a speech at Energy Week which is currently in progress, Jonathan Brearley, CEO of Ofgem responded to the controversy. 

‘Now sometimes it is the role of the regulator to call out difficult things, and what I want to say today is that where we now is simply not acceptable.

‘For example: 20% of generation capacity in the transmission queue will have to wait for a further 10 years before they reach their offered connection dates and 40% have been offered connection dates beyond 2030.

‘That pace is simply not compatible with our ambitions on cost, security, or net zero.  

‘It is the biggest risk to decarbonising the power system by 2035, and it is clear we need to go further and faster to get renewable sources of power onto the grid as quickly as possible.

‘Now the principal cause of this problem, is that the first come first served queuing system no longer makes sense. 

‘Polite queuing may well be in the very best of our British traditions, but it is simply not working here.

‘The queue is held up too much by projects that, likely, will never get built.

‘Put simply, we need to get common sense put back into the way we organise grid connections.

‘We need to prioritise projects that are ready to connect over those, potentially zombie projects, that are delayed and take up space that others can use.’

He then addresses the measures that he plans to implement to try and resolve the issue.

‘First, the ESO (electricity system operator ) has made it easier to leave the queue, and allowed projects to leave without penalty. That will have a positive, but small impact.

‘Second, with the introduction of a two-stage process for connections, the ESO will be able to revise assumptions on how much grid capacity is realistically required to connect new projects, given a large percentage of existing projects in the queue are likely to fall away. 

‘National Grid estimate this could shorten connection times by 2-10 years for many projects.

‘And finally, the ESO are proposing changes to introduce a tighter queue management process. Their intention is to set clear milestones for projects, with those that do not meet the milestones being required to exit the queue.

‘This will take out those zombie projects that are taking up space better used by those projects that are ready. 

‘At the same time, distribution networks are bringing forward coordinated reforms to speed up connections at the distribution level, and the ESO is taking forward thinking on the future direction of connections under its Connections Reform project.

‘And today we are outlining, in an open letter, our proposals to go further in reforming the connections process as a whole.

‘This will examine how connections should be prioritised in the future as we move to a more planned system; with anticipatory investment based on an “invest and connect” philosophy I outlined earlier.

‘And we will set out detailed plans with the Department of Energy this summer, again on how we can make sure the connections regime is making progress.

‘But to be clear, this is where the regulator, government, industry, and all stakeholders need to work together. And, for some, that will mean looking beyond narrow short term commercial interests, to make sure the sector as a whole is moving to where customers need it.

‘If we do not see progress, as a regulator, it will be Ofgem’s responsibility to consider a wider range of reforms to the way in which grid capacity is allocated in the future.

‘This could include moving from ‘first come first served’ connections towards a stricter and more controlled access to the grid, in a network that is substantially planned and coordinated.

‘So this problem needs to be tackled now. We will work with everyone across the industry to make sure that we do. But if we don’t go far enough, then yes we will have to change the regime to make sure that we do so.’

Jonathan Brearley’s speech has attracted attention but not a great deal of comment. Instead the debate has focussed on the role of Ofgem itself, much as it has since the BBC article.


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