National Grid ESO's Grid Code modification request regarding disconnecting embedded generation is urgent, Ofgem has ruled, with a final decision expected before the end of the week.
The ESO raised an urgent modification to clarify its powers on being able to instruct the DNOs to disconnect embedded generators due to the low demand across the UK.
In its proposal, the ESO stated it believed the modification to be urgent due to the bank holiday on 8 May, where it expects exceptionally low demand and could potentially challenge the network, risking blackouts. Ofgem has today (5 May) announced that it agrees with the ESO that its proposal is urgent, although it was quick to state that this has no bearing on its final decision, due on the 7 May.
Ofgem’s decision was not unanimous, however, with one member of the panel voting against the proposal being classified as urgent, stating that the ESO has unlimited ability to issue emergency instructions already and that an urgent modification was “an improper route to follow when an enduring solution should be sought in the first instance”.
Whilst the remainder of the panel accepted the urgency, concerns over the commercial impact on generators, the length of time it took the ESO to bring the modification forward and the process by which DNOs would action emergency instruction were raised.
Analysis: Alice Grundy, Current± junior reporter
It is hard to believe that Ofgem would turn a proposal such as this down during a time of record-low demand and so it comes as no surprise that its urgency has been agreed on. The threat of a bank holiday blackout is real, although National Grid ESO seems confident that with this modification in place it can avoid the situation.
The modification is not a promise to cut embedded generators, but clarity over whether or not the ESO could. If it turned around to a DNO today and told it to remove embedded generation, it would result in a slightly sticky situation because the Grid Code is not clear on whether or not this instruction from the ESO is actually within its powers. In complying the DNO could leave itself open to legal trouble, including being sued by any number of parties.
Any embedded generators disconnected – of which the majority of the UK’s fleet or renewables and battery storage form a large chunk – are not likely to be too happy about being disconnected without any form of compensation.
This Grid Code modification, which looks likely to pass with no bumps in the road now its urgency has been agreed upon by Ofgem, would protect the DNOs from any legal action and allow National Grid ESO to cut embedded generation from the grid if needed.
However, whilst the ESO states it is only to be used as a last resort, the very fact it is pushing for it to be approved by the upcoming bank holiday suggests that last resort may come around rather quickly indeed.
The recommendation on the change from the modification panel is expected tomorrow (6 May) and Ofgem's final decision is expected on the 7 May, just a day before the bank holiday.
The ESO is planning on creating a more considered solution for the longer term, with the Grid Code modification set to time out in October 2020 if no further changes are made.
It has also stated it is establishing a new service for downward flexibility management to mitigate the operational risks caused by COVID-19, with demand having fallen 20% lower than predicted levels.
In response to the proposed modification, an Energy Networks Association spokesperson affirmed that the network companies are "committed to keeping Britain’s energy flowing", lauding the network as "one of the most reliable and greenest energy networks in the world".
"In recent years we have seen a huge increase in the amount of generation connected to the distribution networks so making practical changes to the way the system is operated will help provide more security in the unlikely case of an emergency situation.”