Is the National Grid the Biggest Threat To Renewable Energy?

With people jumping on the renewable bandwagon and producing their own energy, it would seem that more electricity is being fed into the National Grid than ever before. We have houses with solar panels on top, wind farms and hydroelectric plants, community schemes and tidal power to come online soon, not mention some 130 large power producing plants across the country. With all that energy sweeping into the nation’s power lines you could be forgiven for thinking that everything in the world of renewables is fine and rosy.

But behind this increase in energy sources lies a problem with the National Grid that could prevent a number of future projects from getting off the ground unless the question of infrastructure is not addressed sometime soon. Unlike many other countries across the world, the UK has been remiss in updating the power lines that feed electricity into our homes.

What is the National Grid?

The network of pylons and electricity lines that criss-cross our country constitutes the National Grid and ensures that the electricity produced in any of our power stations or substations or by individual generators is available for use anywhere. The grid used to be owned by the Central Electricity Generating Board but is now, in England and Wales, under the control of National Grid plc. In Scotland it is owned by SP Energy Networks which is part of Scottish Power.

What is the Problem?

The Solar Trade Association recently made a plea to the new Conservative government that there needs to be some serious work done on the infrastructure of the National Grid. You might be surprised to learn that, in some parts of the country, the Grid is actually closed to new connections and this is having a knock on effect for renewable energy projects that are trying to get off the ground.

If large parts of the Midlands and South become cut off to large scale energy projects, there is a likelihood that the UK will not be able to meet its EU renewables target for 2020. To achieve that, according the Office of National Statistics, the UK needs to double its production of renewable energy, something which can’t be done if there is nowhere for the electricity to feed into.

According to many industry members the lack of capacity is one problem, the other is the amount firms are being charged to connect to the Grid in the first place. Indeed, the Guardian recently reported that up to 80% of proposed projects found that connection to the Grid was too expensive to make going forward viable.

It’s here that we get into a chicken and egg situation. One of the distribution arms of the grid said that the charges were agreed with Ofgem and that they were needed before work could go ahead on upgrading the network. Prices won’t come down until that work on the grid has been carried out. Ofgem themselves point to the fact that there has been a significant increase in the number of small scale generators of electricity over the last few years which has put the grid under pressure.

Whilst the UK may have surged ahead in recent years with their policy on renewable energy compared to some other countries, it now seems that we may have missed one vital point – the need to invest in infrastructure over the years. Whilst America and China are now beginning to implement massive renewable energy projects, the UK could find itself stalled simply because there isn’t the capacity to take on new projects.

Will there be More Investment?

This is the moot question for the future of electricity according to the Solar Trade Association and with the current financial situation in the UK there’s a problem with where the money is actually going to come from. In Germany, which has a 35 GW peak from solar (as opposed to 8 in the UK), money was put aside to help develop the infrastructure in the very early days. The UK has not been as forward thinking as many would like to think and this could bring new problems in the near future as we try to meet our renewable energy targets.

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