A new report from the Electricity Networks Commissioner Nick Winser has suggested that electrical infrastructure could be built much faster in the UK, which will be vital to achieve meaningful energy security.
Currently it takes between 12-14 years to build new electricity transmission from identification of need to commissioning, despite large wind farms being constructed in half the time. That means the construction of extra generation capacity is far outpacing new grid infrastructure – which could severely impact the UK’s goal of achieving net zero by 2050.
This comes at a time where the UK is seeing increasing investment in renewable energy, with investment up by 500% since 2010. While that’s good news for the decarbonisation of the grid, the lack of transmission capacity means that National Grid ESO is paying more and more in annual constraint costs – the bill paid to generators to get them to turn off renewable generation when supply outstrips demand. In fact, Winser’s report has warned that annual constraint costs could rise from around £0.5-1 billion per year in 2022 to a peak of £2-4 billion per year around 2030.
So, what can be done to solve the issues of capacity? Well, according to Winser, it’s about time to supercharge the development of the UK’s electricity grid and speed up deployment of new infrastructure.
The report suggests that new power lines can be built in half the time and confirms that, while challenging, speeding up the delivery of strategic electricity transmission lines is “vital and achievable”.
Winser noted, “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.
“The implications of being able to build wind generation faster than the associated connections to customers will be serious: very high congestion costs for customers, and clean, cheap domestic energy generation standing idle, potentially for years.
“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.
“I am confident that this is achievable as long as we streamline the process as proposed in the report; and take a transparent, respectful and efficient approach when engaging with people and communities about the impact.”
Nick Winser’s 18 recommendations for speeding up the deployment of new UK grid infrastructure
Winser offered 18 key recommendations that aim to support speedier deployment of new infrastructure, although it would take a stepped approach at first. That means reducing the build time by three years initially, before reaching the ultimate goal of delivering new infrastructure within seven years. The recommendations are as follows:
- The establishment of a Future System Operator (FSO) as soon as possible, with the responsibility of producing a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP)
- The new FSO, supported by Ofgem, should explore new short-term and long-term regional flexibility markets
- The SSEP should reflect detailed and intensive joint working between the FSO and The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland
- Ofgem should provide strategic oversight and approval of the method of production of the SSEP and network plans
- Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) should regularly provide key inputs to the SSEP
- The NPS should be updated urgently and regularly thereafter
- The SSEP should be endorsed regularly by DESNZ and Ofgem, and be referred to in the Energy NPS
- A new document Electricity Transmission Design Principles should be created
- Ofgem should urgently conclude the Future Systems and Network Regulation (FSNR) consultation and establish a new regulatory arrangement with the TOs
- Implement reforms to the Development Consent Order (DCO) Process in England and Wales
- Implement reforms to the Electricity Act 1989 consenting process in Scotland
- The FSO and transmission operators (TOs) should work with the Government to design and implement a focused information campaign on the need for a grid refresh
- A clear and public set of guidelines for community benefit should be established
- The new regulatory deal established by Ofgem with TOs should place a strong responsibility with the TOs to address the acute supply chain constraint
- A major review of engineering and technician skills in the UK needs to be undertaken. This should be led by Government
- An Energy System Delivery Board, chaired by Government, and including Ofgem, the FSO and TOs needs to be established
- A senior Change Management Committee will be required to implement the recommendations
- The institutional arrangements that will be most effective to deliver this infrastructure need to be agreed quickly
Of course those recommendations are now with the UK Government, who will have the final say as to whether they go into policy. The Government has said that it will respond to the proposals later this year.
Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, noted, “The UK is leading the world on renewable energy and decarbonising faster than any other country in the G7. We must ensure we are taking full advantage of our success and getting the increased supply of homegrown, clean energy that we have at our fingertips to people’s homes and businesses for years to come.
“That is why we asked Nick Winser to carry out this review – I welcome his report and am grateful for his work.
“This is another important step as we continue to reform our energy system to drive down bills, grow the economy and ensure tyrants like Putin can never again use energy as a weapon of war.”
Carl Trowell, President, UK Strategic Infrastructure at National Grid, added, “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.
“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.”