A report released by Nick Winser, the electricity networks commissioner, has outlined how GB can halve the time required to build grid infrastructure.
The report details a number of woes faced by the GB energy sector in terms of delivering the necessary infrastructure required to support net zero goals. To halve this, Winser has outlined 18 recommendations detailed below.
According to the report, the “current length of time taken to build new electricity transmission from identification of need to commissioning was 12 to 14 years. Large wind farms are built in half this time”.
This showcases some of the biggest issues within the current GB system. Although investment in the renewable generation sector has surged in recent years – and continues to increase – this growth has not been matched by the electricity transmission network.
The result has led to a “congestion” of the transmission grid – something that had been explored as part of our Current± Explores: The Grid Connection Conundrum mini-series – with the report revealing that more than 230GW of generation projects are currently in the connection queue. In comparison, c.80GW of generation is currently connected.
Delivering the required infrastructure could also have large implications financially for renewable energy developers and other connection customers. The report stated that “annual constraint costs – paid to generators to switch off when supply outstrips demand – could rise from around £0.5-1 billion per year in 2022 to a peak of £2-4 billion per year around 2030 if all current investment is delivered on time”.
In hopes to spur the progression of investment within the electricity transmission network and halve the time required to build new power lines, Winser outlined 18 recommendations aimed to support this goal. This is intended to offer options to reduce grid infrastructure build time by three years initially, before ultimately halving the time required to around seven years.
Commenting on the release of the report, Winser said: “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 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.”
The ESO strongly welcomes and supports Nick Winser’s review.— National Grid ESO (@NationalGridESO) August 4, 2023
We are committed to working with all stakeholders and communities – from Peterhead to Penzance – to ensure the grid Britain needs for the future is delivered.https://t.co/d8y2ibHWMc
Winser’s 18 recommendations
The first recommendation brought forward by Winser calls on the Future System Operator (FSO) to be established quickly and be responsible for producing a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP). Doing so could spur the creation of the bold decisions on energy policy that could operate as an enabler for reducing energy bill costs at a faster rate.
Winser’s second recommendation builds upon this and argues that the FSO, supported by Ofgem, should urgently assess the scope for new short-term and long-term regional flexibility markets. The report reads that “urgent development of zonal flexibility markets and new, more encouraging, planning and operation rules will reduce transmission investment costs and provide valuable opportunities to deploy more renewables earlier”.
Recommendations three, four and five all focus on the SSEP. This includes; ensuring the SSEP reflects detailed and intensive joint working between the FSO and The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland, Ofgem providing strategic oversight and approval of the method of production of the SSEP and network plans and to ensure that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) regularly provide key inputs to the SSEP.
The sixth recommendation argues that “National Policy Statements (NPS) should be updated urgently and regularly thereafter”. With this in mind, Winser states that the NPS, which are currently being consulted on, should be updated routinely every five years. The Energy NPS should also be updated to reflect this reports’ recommendations.
Recommendation seven builds on this and states that the SSEP should be endorsed regularly by DESNZ and Ofgem and be referred to in the Energy NPS.
Winser’s eighth recommendation calls for the creation of a new Electricity Transmission Design Principles (ETDP) document that details the principles and methods used to design the system and the configuration of assets including onshore or offshore, overhead or underground.
Recommendation nine states that Ofgem should “urgently” conclude the Future Systems and Network Regulation consultation and establish a new regulatory arrangement with the Transmission Operators (TOs). With this, Winser believes that there should be a “strong and heavily incentivised responsibility on Transmission Operators to deliver to time and cost”.
The tenth and eleventh recommendations call for the implementation of reforms to the Development Consent Order (DCO) Process in England and Wales in addition to the implementation of reforms to the Electricity Act 1989 consenting process in Scotland, respectively.
Recommendations twelve and thirteen look to bolster community engagement and benefits. For this, Winser highlights that the FSO and TOs should work with the government to design and implement a focused information campaign on the need for a grid refresh. As well as this, there should also be a clear and public set of guidelines for Community benefit should be established.
Winser’s fourteenth recommendation calls for a new regulatory deal to be established by Ofgem with TOs that place a strong responsibility with the TOs to address the acute supply chain constraint. This is a key area of concern with global supply chains currently hindering the progress of many projects. Because of this, the report states that “it is vital that the TOs establish long-term relationships with key providers. Five-year deals would be a minimum. Ten-year deals may be necessary”.
Recommendation fifteen argues that a major review of engineering and technician skills in the UK needs to be undertaken and that this should be led by the UK Government. Although the report acknowledges that engineering industry groups are working to tackle this issue, progress has been slow and it’s vitally important for the UK’s net zero goals for this to be accelerated.
Winser’s sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth recommendations state that an Energy System Delivery Board, chaired by government, and including Ofgem, the FSO as well as TOs needs to be established, the creation of a senior Change Management Committee that will be required to implement the recommendations, and an emphasis that institutional arrangements, which will be most effective to deliver this infrastructure, need to be agreed quickly.
NEW: Electricity Networks Commissioner report by @EnergySysCat chair Nick Winser for @energygovuk secretary @grantshapps finds:— Energy Systems Catapult (@EnergySysCat) August 4, 2023
New electricity transmission lines now taking in 12-14 years, can be built in..
7⃣ years, to help energy security & #NetZero.https://t.co/P2tYoxscbS pic.twitter.com/E1XsaBODkm
Industry welcomes Winser report
The overall consensus from the UK energy industry is favourable towards the release of Winser’s report with many highlighting the value it could bring in introducing concrete action.
Commenting on this, Zoisa North-Bond, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation, said: “Power from renewables is currently cheaper than power from fossil fuels, but grid connection wait times remain a national scandal. It’s brilliant to see these recommendations to streamline the UK’s grid system and we hope they can be rolled out quickly.
“The UK is on the cusp of a massive decarbonisation opportunity, to build and connect more green energy and deliver cheaper, cleaner energy to people as a result. Timing is of the essence – the need to bring down bills and boost our energy security couldn’t be more urgent.”
The release of the report, and in particular the recommendations, have also been welcomed by RenewableUK chief executive, Dan McGrail, who emphasised that the “electricity network is the single biggest barrier to delivering a zero-carbon power system by 2035”.
“We’re pleased that this timely report puts forward a series of constructive measures to speed up the pace at which the UK builds vital new grid infrastructure,” McGrail said. “These recommendations will benefit billpayers across the country by ensuring that we maximise the vast quantities of cheap, clean power we’re generating from renewables, and that we can get it to British homes and businesses more efficiently.
“The UK has reached a turning point where delaying new grid is not in the best interests of consumers, as they need to be able to access electricity at the lowest cost more easily. This report shows that removing constraints and bottlenecks from the grid as a matter of urgency will provide the best value for money for billpayers. It sets out a range of proposals for a strategic long-term plan for network development which will be essential to meet our net zero goals.”
McGrail highlighted the positive stance taken on the jobs and skills shortages within the energy sector.
“It’s great to see job opportunities being flagged up too – as many as 130,000 – especially for young people, as the report states that a wide range of skills will be needed to modernise and upgrade our electricity network, with highly skilled roles in construction, planning, engineering and environmental science, now and in the years ahead,” he said.
Carl Trowell, president of UK Strategic Infrastructure at National Grid, also welcomed the release of Winser’s report stating the work being done at the organisation to support the development of the network.
“We welcome the report’s recommendations and the focus on delivering tangible benefits for communities hosting new infrastructure. We support the need for a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan (SSEP) which should set out what needs to be built where and when, ensure there is an upfront public consultation, and have a standing in planning law,” Trowell said.
“If delivered, this would help provide greater clarity to communities, reduce cost and delays to infrastructure projects and support the timely delivery of the network infrastructure required to meet decarbonisation and energy security objectives.
“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.”
The UK Government has lauded the report stating that it is “another important step as we continue to reform our energy system”.
“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,” said Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps.
“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.”