In a move to accelerate the transition to net zero, Ofgem has announced a set of new rules designed to streamline the process of connecting viable energy projects to the electricity grid.
These measures aim to address the current “first-come, first-served” system, which has resulted in a lengthy queue of projects that far exceeds the actual power needs of the British energy system, many of which are unlikely to ever be built but are blocking larger more strategic renewable energy projects.
Effective from November 27, 2023, the new queue management milestones will be implemented by National Grid ESO, the UK’s grid operator, and will apply to both existing and future grid connection agreements.
These changes will target stalled projects that are blocking the queue for high-voltage transmission lines, enabling the prioritisation of ready-to-go generation and storage projects that are crucial for achieving net zero.
Under the new rules, National Grid ESO will have the authority to impose strict milestones into connection agreements and terminate projects that fail to meet these milestones at each stage of development. The ESO will provide detailed guidance on the implementation of these powers on November 27, with the first terminations expected to take place as early as 2024.
Eleanor Warburton, Ofgem’s Deputy Director for Institutions for Net Zero Energy Systems Management and Security, highlighted the urgency of these changes: “The transition to net zero demands urgent changes to the electricity connections system – or we cannot unlock investment, speed up network build and accelerate new technology.”
“This is a big step towards phasing out the first-come first-served queuing system. We want new power on the grid as quickly as possible, so if you’re ready, you can connect sooner. If you’re not ready and are blocking the progress of others, you’ll be removed – you can’t sit on the queue with no consequences.”
The announcement follows Ofgem CEO Jonathan Brearley’s call in May for urgent reforms to the connections system, emphasising the need to unlock new investment and meet national targets of 50GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 and 70GW from solar by 2035.
The new rules complement National Grid ESO’s five-point plan, which outlines near-term initiatives supported by Ofgem to expand capacity and expedite connection dates for transmission projects.
Julian Leslie, Chief Engineer and Head of Networks at the ESO, welcomed the new rules, stating: “We warmly welcome these new rules approved by Ofgem enabling us to proactively terminate zombie projects in the connections queue. This is a milestone moment in the ESO’s efforts to lead the transformation of the grid connections process, making it fit for purpose for a modern network that is rapidly evolving and decarbonising.”
Grid infrastructure plays a pivotal role in facilitating a cleaner and low-carbon energy system. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) cautions that the current grid has emerged as a ‘bottleneck’ in the clean energy transition and requires substantial investment to avoid hindering progress.
Despite this, the IEA believes net zero ‘remains feasible’ due to ‘unstoppable’ clean energy growth.
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