Last week, the BBC reported that billions of pounds’ worth of green energy projects are on hold in the UK because they cannot plug into the UK’s electricity system, with some new solar and wind sites waiting between ten and 15 years to be connected due to a lack of capacity in the system.
According to their research, there are currently more than £200 billion worth of projects sitting in the connections queue, a figure which should sharpen minds in government. But to those in the know, this news is far from a surprise. Back in March, for example, Vattenfall Network Solutions‘ Suzanna Lashford noted that the limited and rapidly diminishing capacity available on the UK’s power grid was causing a major roadblock that stands in the way of the electrific revolution.
Additionally, an Octopus Energy report from earlier this month highlighted a number of challenges that renewables operators are experiencing while trying to get their projects onto the grid. Primarily, operators are simply placed into a long queue, even behind fossil fuels projects and other renewable projects which are further behind in terms procurring land, funding, and/or planning consent. There is no sense of prioritisation, and old coal and gas power projects sit on vital capacity despite them likely never getting built.
Meanwhile, projects pay just a minimal fee to secure their offer, without needing to show proof of a viable project. Speculative applications take up capacity and old grid offers block up the system.
Commenting on the BBC’s latest research, Kona Energy founder, Andy Willis, says that connection delays are crippling the UK’s green reputation. Investors are acutely aware of the inhospitable environment, and the international investment community will not hesitate to divert funds elsewhere if this continues.
“Kona has projects gathering dust that could have already been constructed and operational, but we are at the mercy of connection times,” notes Willis. “In my view, this is the single biggest threat to delivering net-zero and unless the Government tackles it with the attention it deserves, we will all fail.”
So, what are the solutions? Simon Harvey, GVP of energy and commodities at Publicis Sapient, explains that the answer is complex and requires the coordination of multiple parties including government, OFGEM, renewables generators, the distribution network operators (DNOs) and National Grid to action and prioritise work to unstick the log jam.
“Work is urgently required to re-prioritise the back log of new schemes requiring grid connections to ensure the UK gets the most impactful schemes on-grid first,” says Harvey. “National Grid and the DNOs must learn from other industries and digital first organisations to be more agile with their activities to accelerate their connections work and increase their productivity. And, from a grid operators perspective, they must now become far more customer centric as they re-orient themselves around their new customers, the renewables constructors and generators, to meet their needs through re-imagined customer connection journeys.
“In our experience, grid and network operators recognise the need to change and have started to make the necessary changes and deliver proof of concept examples to build confidence with key stakeholders and OFGEM that they can respond. However, they need help, and fast, from experts to help them bridge the gap.”
For Stephen Magennis, managing director of Expleo Technology, it is crucial that technology is focused on as a key priority when it comes to improving the infrastructure of the UK’s energy supply. Recently, their Business Transformation Index research showed that 50 per cent of energy business leaders surveyed cited digital transformation as a vehicle to improving access to affordable and clean energy.
“The sector needs to pull together and collaborate with legislators to address the issues with infrastructure and address supply chain constraints, support environmental targets, and improve accessibility to emerging technologies,” says Magennis. “This is the only way we can address the bigger challenges and develop solutions that benefit the consumer, while also addressing the Net Zero challenge.”
Octopus Energy are in agreement. They say that DNOs must accept that domestic flexibility is a reliable and bankable resource that can be used to manage demand/supply imbalances. All of their markets must be reformed, and technical barriers eliminated, to ensure domestic flexibility can participate and is valued equally to any system actions from generation.
System operators should also rapidly digitalise all operations to efficiently manage a system made up of thousands of assets. Human biases, manual processes and bilateral negotiations, Octopus says, will have no place in the future electricity system.
“More of the same is not an option,” concludes Willis. “We have to try something different as the problem is only going to get worse.”