Report calls to faster renewal of UK electricity grid

Report calls to faster renewal of UK electricity grid

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Speeding up the delivery of strategic electricity transmission lines is challenging but vital and achievable, finds an independent report by the Electricity Networks Commissioner Nick Winser.

The UK has been successful in stimulating investment in generation from renewables in recent decades, but this has not been matched with investment in electricity transmission networks, the electricity grid. This has led to delays to connect to the grid, with more than 230GW of generation waiting, compared to c.80GW of generation currently connected says a report by the former National Grid UK CEO and current chair of the UK’s Energy Systems Catapult, Nick Winser.

He found that the current length of time taken to build new electricity transmission from identification of need to commissioning was 12 to 14 years – large wind farms are built in half this time.

He is calling for grid connections to be delivered in half the current time, with a series of 18 recommendations to the UK government.

“Delivering 50GW of new wind power and 24GW of new nuclear will be a major step towards decarbonising our economy and providing customers with clean, secure, affordable electricity, but that magnificent achievement will be wasted if we cannot get the power to homes and businesses,” said Winser.

“The current process is complex and involves many different parties. The need case must be identified and evidenced, it must fit into an integrated network design and the overall energy system. Regulatory approval must be gained, a detailed design must be agreed, affected individuals and communities must be consulted and listened to, major orders for specialised high voltage grid components must be placed with equipment manufacturers that already have full order books, and a large skilled workforce of engineers and technicians must be mobilised,” said Winser.

“The recent changes still leave a process with many unfortunate attributes. We don’t have a settled, strategic, efficient and timely process for identifying need for new transmission assets. The regulatory process has evolved from considering individual transmission lines to groups of them, but it is not settled, streamlined, regular and operating at a system level. It still adds uncertainty and significant time to the process – this is time we cannot afford.”

“So, the challenge to me, set by the Secretary of State at the time, to reduce the timescale for building strategic transmission by three years, and ultimately by a half is the right one. I believe that we must hit the more ambitious end of this and reduce the overall timescale to seven years.”

A key problem Winser identifies is that major orders for specialised high voltage grid components must be placed with equipment manufacturers that already have full order books and a large skilled workforce of engineers and technicians must be mobilised to plan, design, build, commission and connect these new assets into one of the most complex electricity transmission systems in the world.

 “Every part of this process must – and can – be dramatically improved including introducing a spatial energy plan and design principles outlining where and why we need new lines, and how both the environmental and economic impacts have been considered,” said Winser.

A new organisation, the Future System Operator, is planned for 2024 as part of new legislation, the Energy Security Bill, to bring together the planning for the electricity and gas systems, and potentially systems for new technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, into a single institution.

This needs to be established quickly and be responsible for producing a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP). “It is unrealistic to imagine that we can wait and see what energy sources and demands arise, then hope to build the necessary networks in time, so a SSEP will forecast the supply and demand characteristics and their likely whereabouts,” said Winser.

A new document on Electricity Transmission Design Principles (ETDP) should be created. This will provide be a public document detailing the principles and methods used to design the system and decide the configuration of assets; onshore or offshore, overhead or underground. This will give a clear basis for communities and other stakeholders to understand proposals and a clear foundation for the Planning Inspectorate’s consideration. It could also be used to drive innovation and best practice sharing.

The UK government said it would consider the recommendations in the report before developing an action plan in the autumn while industry has said there is no time to lose.

“This report from the Electricity Networks Commissioner is both timely and welcome, following our recent launch of The Great Grid Upgrade, the largest overhaul of the electricity transmission grid in generations, with significant new infrastructure planned across England and Wales,” said Carl Trowell, President, UK Strategic Infrastructure at National Grid.

“There is no time to waste, implementing the proposals and progressing the energy transition at pace is the surest route to more affordable bills, greater energy resilience and a more energy independent UK.”

“We need bold reforms to accelerate the delivery of electricity transmission infrastructure needed to end the reliance on fossil fuels for power by 2035,” said Rebecca Barnett, Director of Networks at regulator Ofgem.

“Nick Winser sets out an ambitious, highly detailed programme to remove barriers to planning and delivering transmission network and plugging renewable generation into the grid. This builds on Ofgem’s work to establish strategic national and regional planning; unlock and accelerate infrastructure investment; and end delays in grid connections to homes, businesses and public services.”


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