The UK must deliver development consent for over 17 transmission projects in the next four years to achieve a fully decarbonised electricity system by 2035, says the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).
As disclosed in the Commission’s annual Infrastructure Progress Review, this represents a fivefold increase in current rates and signifies the urgency for the UK to speed up its renewable developments and infrastructure.
Crucial in supporting the rollout of transmission projects is a reformation of the planning system which should be led by the UK government. The NIC has called on the government to publish National Policy Statements on energy to accelerate the consenting process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).
The NIC has also called on the government to act now in order for the UK to attain its target to deliver 65% of Britain’s electricity from renewables by 2030. The NIC has recommended that 95 Contracts for Difference (CfD) auctions should be used to deliver the increase in renewable capacity. Alongside this, the auctions for onshore wind and solar should be reopened, the NIC said.
The CfD scheme has been a key enabler for renewable generation capacity at low prices. The result has seen more than 10GW of low carbon generation awarded that could support the UK in decarbonisation.
In total, 17GW of low carbon generation have contracts that are due to begin between now and 2027. Should these all be successfully constructed, they will collectively generate around 61TWh of electricity per year – a fifth of current generation.
Despite the positives associated with the scheme, the NIC believe that these can no longer operate at low costs primarily due to the sharp increase in financing and development costs.
According to Cornwall Insight, the rising costs of capital now means that already commissioned projects are becoming financially unviable, meaning many potential projects could well be put on hold until financing is acquired. This delay could have severe consequences on the nation’s net zero ambitions.
The government should also increase the flexibility of electricity by bolstering electricity interconnection and facilitating deployment of storage and demand side response, NIC said.
2022 saw an increase in the share of electricity generated by renewables. The report outlined that this stood at 40% in 2022 – the second highest share to date behind 2020. Because of this, the NIC believes the government remains broadly on track to deliver 65% of renewables by 2030.
“If the Commission saw 2021 as a year of slow progress in many areas, in 2022 movement has stuttered further just as the need for acceleration has heightened. There have been negligible advances in improving the energy efficiency of UK homes, the installation of low carbon heating solutions or securing a sustainable balance of water supply and demand,” said Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Committee in his foreword.
“Getting our infrastructure right for the second half of this century is a journey that, by definition, will go on being plotted over the coming decades. But a further year of prevarication risks losing momentum on critical areas like achieving the statutory net zero target. Rarely has the need for speed been more evident.”