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‘Polite Queuing’ Threatens Decarbonisation of the Energy Grid

‘Polite Queuing’ Threatens Decarbonisation of the Energy Grid

Ofgem Energy Related Blog

Jonathan Brearley, the chief executive of Ofgem
, has said that the UK will not be able to achieve its ambition of decarbonising the electricity grid by the middle of the 2030s with the current system of ‘polite queuing’.

He has labelled the decade-long wait to connect low carbon projects to the electricity grid as ‘unacceptable’. There are some renewable energy projects that may never be built blocking more viable wind and solar farms from being connected to the grid and tensions are building over who is to blame for the delays and the mounting backlog of green power projects. In an attempt to calm the situation, he said:

“Too often there is blame game between industry, generators, network operators and government. This needs to stop. We all need to take joint responsibility for getting the connections regime sorted once and for all.”

During an interview with the Observer, the National Grid chief executive, John Pettigrew, asked for his company to be allowed to do “anticipatory investment” to help renewable projects’ connections, rather than having to wait for a grid connection agreement to be signed on a specific project.

Mr. Brearley has countered this with the promise of a major review which will report within two years and help greatly reduce the backlog of projects that are waiting to be connected to the grid.


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He has written to energy bosses warning them that the current system which sees energy projects queuing for their connection, could be replaced by new methods to match power generation with demand.  He is also planning to use his attendance at an energy conference to criticise a “legacy of stalled, unviable, and often highly speculative ‘zombie’ projects blocking ready-to-go solar, wind and other renewable schemes stuck behind them”.

He said that he will tell the Utility Week Live conference in Birmingham that Ofgem has “removed all barriers to National Grid investing in grid expansion and upgrades ahead of applications” through its “invest and connect policy”.

In fact, Ofgem already announced a pilot of this model back in December, accelerating £20bn investment in connecting up 26 offshore wind projects. The Ofgem chief is hoping to extend this approach to other renewable technologies with his major review.

Mr. Brearley said:

“Polite queuing may be in the very best of British traditions – but the first-come, first-served connections regime is not fit for purpose if we are to end fossil fuel power within 12 years. It is unacceptable energy projects are blocking great low-carbon schemes from plugging into the transmission network – with connection times of a decade or more. Ambitious targets are empty words if we can't get this right. It's like promising everyone an electric car today but stopping them driving it until 2033.

One of the biggest issues holding back the rollout of clean energy across Britain is the difficulty that the builders of wind farms have in securing a cable which connects them to the grid. They say that it doesn’t matter how fast they can put up wind turbines if these turbines are not able to get the electricity they produce to the businesses and households who need it.

Ofgem estimated that between 60% and 70% of high voltage transmission schemes never actually connect to the grid. It can take up to 10 years to get a connection while more than half of projects wait for more than 5 years.


Mr. Brealey said:

“Poor connection speeds risk undermining us creating a net zero electricity system, protecting consumers from high and volatile gas prices and ultimately securing energy security and independence.”

Ofgem has said that it could phase out the first-come first-served system which sees ‘zombie’ projects which are never likely to go ahead still take priority over newer more viable projects. However, incremental change is not going to be enough. What is needed is a more transformative approach.

Renewable energy developers have criticised the UK government for having a ‘lack of vision’ in planning the grid. They have expressed their concern that wait times of up to 15 years have made it difficult to attract investment as the UK competes with the $369bn (£295bn) US package of climate subsidies.

Currently, the official line is that the UK is attempting to rebalance its energy network away from fossil fuels in favour of renewables with a target of decarbonising the UK power system by 2035. To reach this target, ministers are hoping that 50 gigawatts of offshore wind will have been installed by the end of the decade, and 70 GW of solar by 2035. It’s not enough for the government to hope that all electricity in the UK will not have any carbon emissions from generation by 2035. Mr. Brearley has warned that these ambitious targets could just turn out to be empty words without change. He said that connection delays and costs were the greatest risk to this.

Mr. Brealey said:

“We can’t scale up the grid capacity needed by 2035 without much bolder intervention to get new power on the grid as quickly as possible”.

Mr. Brearley’s warning comes just a day after the National Grid published a report which says that “urgent action” is required form Ofgem, the government and industry to reach the 2035 target.

The National Grid has set out its plan to reach the 2035 target which includes reform to the planning system, a move away from the first-come first served system, also called for by Ofgem and the provision of benefits to local people in return for hosting renewable projects. Mr. Pettigrew has asked the public not to block efforts to connect up low-carbon projects.

National Grid boss John Pettigrew said:

“Today, we all stand at a critical juncture. The scale of the transformation needed over the next decade and beyond is a level not seen for generations with a far greater level of investment needed over a much shorter timeframe.”

National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO) has also published a plan to speed up connecting to the grid. The plan includes allowing developers to leave the queue without incurring a financial penalty, creating new contracts related to how quickly a project has progressed and allowing sites that store electricity to connect faster.

The ESO predicted that 70% of the pipeline of projects with a connection date after 2026 would be able to connect to the grid between 2 and 10 years earlier due to these changes.

National Grid ESO said that it had already launched an amnesty which could let projects withdraw from its queue without penalties. It is also updating how connection dates are calculated among other things.

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Richard is a seasoned director and a respected authority in the field of renewable energy, leveraging his extensive experience working with and for large PLC's in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) industry.

He has worked on hundreds of projects across the United Kingdom like HS2 and other major critical highways and infrastructure projects, both for the public and private sectors.

He is one of the chief driving forces behind the creation, development, and management of The Renewable Energy Hub, your premier online destination for sustainable energy knowledge and resources.


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