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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Urgent call to streamline the UK’s electricity grid system


View looking up at pylon in bright sunshine Photo: Shutterstock
New power lines could be built in half the time in the UK, according to the keenly awaited Electricity Networks Commissioner report

Photo: Shutterstock

Speeding up the delivery of strategic electricity transmission lines in the UK is vital, and achievable in half the current timescale, according to an independent report by the Electricity Networks Commissioner Nick Winser.

Although the UK has been ‘successful’ in stimulating investment in generation from renewables in recent decades, this has not been matched with investment in electricity transmission networks, says the Commissioner’s report. Indeed, the ‘queue’ to connect to the grid is extremely congested, with more than 230 GW of generation waiting, compared to ~80 GW of generation currently connected.


The report from Nick Winser, the former National Grid UK CEO and current Energy Systems Catapult Chair, suggests that the current timescale of 12–14 years to build new electricity transmission lines could be reduced to seven years, the time frame in which large wind farms are built in the UK. This will be vital to delivering the 50 GW of new wind and 24 GW of new nuclear being targeted by the UK government to help improve energy security and meet its net zero by 2050 goal.


The report also calls for ‘open, transparent and efficient’ engagement with communities and the general public about the impact of new transmission infrastructure.


Currently, renewable energy developers and other connection customers are receiving connection offers for the 2030s, slowing the clean energy transition. The report suggests that annual constraint costs – paid to generators to switch off when supply outstrips demand – could rise from around £0.5–1bn/y in 2022 to a peak of £2–4bn/y around 2030 if all current investment is delivered on time.


The Electricity Networks Commissioner was appointed in July 2022 and tasked with providing advice to the UK government on how to reduce the time it takes to deliver transmission infrastructure in Britain. The report was delivered as a letter to Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, who has said he will take action on its 18 recommendations.


Among the recommendations are a call for a Future System Operator (FSO) to be established quickly and be responsible for producing a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP) that will forecast the supply and demand characteristics and their likely whereabouts. It is also proposed that the FSO, supported by Ofgem, should urgently assess the scope for new short-term and long-term regional flexibility markets. Although this recommendation would not directly lead to shorter delivery times for electricity transmission, demand flexibility and smart investment and operation of energy storage facilities could reduce the need for new transmission investment. Urgent development of zonal flexibility markets and new, more encouraging, planning and operation rules would also reduce transmission investment costs and provide valuable opportunities to deploy more renewables earlier.


In addition, the report recommends streamlining of the planning consent process and for a new Electricity Transmission Design Principles (ETDP) public document to be created that would detail the principles and methods used to design the system and decide the configuration of assets – onshore or offshore, overhead or underground. This would give a clear basis for communities and other stakeholders to understand proposals and a clear foundation for the Planning Inspectorate’s consideration. It could also be used to drive innovation and best practice sharing.


Regulatory approval also needs expediting, suggests the report, and there should be a strong and heavily incentivised responsibility on Transmission Operators to deliver to time and cost.


The Winser report is also supported by a detailed companion report by Energy Systems Catapult.


UK raises budget for ongoing CfD auction 
In other news, the UK government has increased the budget for the ongoing fifth round of the contracts for difference (CfD) scheme by £22mn, bringing the overall budget for the auction to £227mn.


More specifically, the funding available for established technologies such as solar and offshore wind is being increased by £20mn to £190mn, and the budget for emerging technologies such as floating wind is being increased by £2mn to £37mn. Meanwhile, some £10mn is being ring-fenced for tidal stream projects.