Waiting to connect: the problems and solutions for network connection queues

The number of grid applications has risen significantly in recent years, resulting in increased pressure on the electricity networks to facilitate new connections. In its Energy Security Strategy, the UK government set out ambitions for 95% of electricity to be sourced from low carbon generation by 2030, and for the UK to have a fully decarbonised electricity system by 2035. To accommodate this required growth in renewables, network capacity on the distribution and transmission systems will have to expand significantly over the next decade.

Despite this growing need, constraints in network capacity can cause delays to project development, require projects to move to another location on the network, or even prevent projects being built altogether. Concerns are also being raised about the connections process, which many industry stakeholders believe is no longer fit for purpose and is exacerbating barriers for the deployment of low carbon generation and progress towards net zero.

Network constraints

Distribution

As generation becomes increasingly decentralised, network capacity is becoming particularly congested on the distribution networks, and creating or exacerbating network constraints. In the transition to greater electrification of heating and transport, the significant rise expected in connections from new demand users is adding to this pressure. It is therefore becoming increasingly important for the Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to efficiently and flexibly manage existing connections and new customers looking to connect.

The DNOs’ Embedded Capacity Registers (ECRs) provide a view of existing generation capacity connected within each DNO region, and a view of  new capacity that has been accepted to connect, updated monthly. Based on December data, the registers show that there is currently 20.7GW of renewable generation connected to the distribution networks in GB and a further 70.0GW of renewable capacity presently expected to connect. The regions with the highest levels of new capacity classed as ‘accepted to connect’ include West Midlands, Eastern England, and East Midlands with 10.6GW, 10.3GW and 10.1GW respectively (Figure 1).

Transmission

The transmission system is also facing significant network constraints which are causing delays to project development. Ofgem and National Grid are currently reviewing connection and queue management arrangements to speed up transmission connections for generation and enable fair and effective use of the available network capacity.

It is clear that issues with network constraints and the current connections process create problems for both new connectees and our collective goal of reaching net zero by 2050. In order to future-proof the electricity network we must focus on increasing network capacity in the coming years, and do this in anticipation of increased demand and generation requirements rather than in response. The networks will undoubtedly be undergoing significant change over the next decade to ensure that our energy system can facilitate future energy demands and net zero objectives while facilitating fair apportionment of costs. Cornwall Insight’s ‘Power and gas networks services’ are designed to help you navigate this complex and ever-changing sector. For more information please get in touch with Laura Woolsey l.woolsey@cornwall-insight.com or Tom Faulkner t.faulkner@cornwall-insight.com

This is the first part in a two-part series, and part 2 will be coming soon. Part 2 will focus on industry workstreams looking to improve connection processes and support development of a resilient and future-proofed energy network.

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