Developers of a renewable energy and battery storage site are warning that waiting up to 13 years to connect to Britain’s energy grid is putting investment at risk and undermining the move away from fossil fuels.
Around 600 projects with a combined capacity of 176GW are lined up in England and Wales, according to National Grid, against 64GW of connected capacity.
Some battery, wind and solar projects are said to have to wait till 2036 for connections.
Mark Rowcroft, director of development at battery storage site company Xzen, said he was “quoted 2036 last month”, adding that “nobody can keep a project going for that long”.
Renewable providers and energy experts say a lack of grid capacity threatens Britain’s ambitious target of decarbonizing the electricity system by 2035 on its way to becoming a net zero emissions economy by 2050. It also underlines the need for a major change in the regulation of UK power. network.
Developers say a grid designed for a small number of large fossil fuel generators, such as coal-fired power plants, is struggling to shift to a more dispersed range of suppliers such as solar and wind farms.
Harald Overholm, chief executive of Swedish solar company Alite, blamed the problem on a “collective failure of public policy”, warning that grid connection delays “could become a systemic problem for the UK unless it is addressed quickly”. “.
“National Grid needs to invest, change the way it works and employ enough people to meet the demand of the energy transformation,” he said, adding that if the delay is not addressed soon So his company would not rule out reconsidering investing in UK solar capacity. ,
Renewable energy providers can apply to the national grid or one of six regional network operators for capacity, but they are all very large and require more investment.
Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford and former adviser on government energy policy, said the failures of the regulations were set in when the electricity sector was privatized three decades ago.
Regulators rejected any strategic plan for the grid and instead ruled that renewable developers could demand connection to the network from any site, while another problem was that network providers could only build based on connection requests. Invest in capacity.
Helm said the regulatory regime also encourages networks to focus on reducing costs rather than going down a path to net zero and that “without change, that goal is not going to be met in 12 years’ time”.
National Grid says it has historically had 40-50 applications for connections a year, but this has increased to around 600 per year as renewable energy suppliers increase. This is on top of the significant number of applications coming in to regional distributors.
Hugh Taylor, founder of Rodknight Taylor, which provides advice on grid connections to developers, said a “tidal wave” of applications meant around 80 per cent of those made for regional distribution networks were unsuccessful because they would be too expensive, Although this varied by region.
Taylor’s company also helps landowners secure grid capacity so they can generate income by selling it to a developer. Taylor said the cost of booking grid capacity in advance was rising and a grid connection attached to a piece of land could cost more than £1 million.
Some renewables developers argue that speculative buyers are adding to network congestion.
Andrew McElwee, founder of battery storage site developer Penso Power, said: “The system that has been built encourages speculation,” adding: “13 years out is very difficult to plan for.”
As a privatized monopoly, the amount Networks can charge customers to make improvements is determined by regulator Ofgem, which needs to balance rising customer bills with the need to modernize the system. Currently each household pays £311 a year towards the cost of the network.
The Energy Networks Association, which represents operators, said the charges “have remained broadly flat since 2015 and average around 7 per cent of the bill”.
National Grid said it was pushing for license changes to bring forward projects that have planning permission and are ready to go ahead, rather than managing connection requests on a “first come, first served” basis. .
It is also investing £9 billion to improve green energy connections over the five years to 2026.
A waiver that allows customers to drop off the register at no cost or a reduced fee to make way for projects being developed is already in place.
“We are working with Ofgem and industry to explore ways of speeding up the process,” National Grid said.
But Alite’s Overholm warned the delays needed to be addressed immediately because they are “slowing down our growth momentum and preventing us from implementing the ambitious strategy we would otherwise have for the UK”.
“The delay is a real issue for those driving the energy transition and wanting to quickly deploy green megawatts in the UK.”