Approved connections for solar sites reached 34 between January and May, doubling the number recorded in 2020. Image: UKPN

A total of 34 new solar generation sites and nine battery storage sites have secured connection contracts with UK Power Networks (UKPN) between January and May in Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

For both technologies, this is a rapid increase on the previous few years, with there being 17 new solar connections accepted in 2020 and four in 2019. Most of these new sites are to be mid-size solar farms on former agricultural land, according to the distribution network operator (DNO), generating almost 840MW once operational.

Mainly located within a 30 mile radius north of the M25, the sites have planning permission and the contracts between the generation owners and UKPN have been signed. Having secured connections to the electricity network, generators can then make a down payment on connections costs, with the renewable sites then to be built. Some of the 34 new sites will be able to generate as soon as the next few months, according to the DNO.

Alongside solar, the east has also seen a surge in approved battery storage connections, with nine accepted between January and May 2021 for a total capacity of 385MW. This is up from three in the same period in 2020, with this increase driven in part by new commercial energy markets for technology such as battery storage. In October 2020, the new frequency response market Dynamic Containment was launched by National Grid ESO, offering the highest price for frequency services of £17/MW/h.

UKPN claimed the majority of the new solar sites were made possible by its new flexible connections, which enables owners of distributed generation to connect cheaper and faster by removing upfront costs for upgrading the electricity network. As part of this, generators agree to temporarily reduce the amount of energy they export at certain times to keep the network within its operational limits.

Sotiris Georgiopoulos, head of smart grid development at UK Power Networks, said: “This extraordinary new wave of solar is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from teams across our business. We’ve invested, engaged and implemented world-leading innovation to facilitate sustainable renewable energy. Now, we need to go even further and faster to make net zero emissions by 2050 a reality.”

The east of England is a popular destination for new solar developments, partly due to its flat, available land, weather conditions and its proximity to existing grid infrastructure. The past year saw the highest number of new clean generator acceptances in the East of England in the last nine years, with 65 accepted to connect with a total capacity of 1,866MW.

Across the UK, the pipeline of new ground-mounted sites stood at 17GW as of the end of April 2021, according to the latest research from Solar Media's in-house market research team. Around 800-900MW of new sites are being identified every month, with 58 sites – making up 1.8GW of capacity- in the mix for 2021 construction.