The Action Plan was announced during the Autumn Statement on Wednesday (22 November). Image: Ofgem.

The newly published Grid Connections Action Plan outlines an overhaul that could release 100GW of capacity from the connections queue and cut average connection times from five years to six months.

Published alongside the government’s Autumn Statement by the UK government and Ofgem on Wednesday (22 November), the eagerly anticipated report could prove to be a defining moment in plans to overhaul the grid connection process and slash connection delays which in recent times has extended into the late 2030s.

Detailed within the Action Plan, one of the biggest changes is the decision to move away from the current “first ready, first served” approach. Replacing this will be a “first come, first connected” approach to ensure speculative and slow projects are removed from the queue.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) will also work with the Office for Investment on a “triage process” that will ensure that the most “strategically important” projects receive the strongest support from the government when applying for a grid connection.

The transition away from the “first come, first served” approach is expected to be a welcome change for the energy industry with many having argued that it has led to a build-up of non-viable “phantom” projects – around 62GW according to Centrica – that have “clogged” the transmission entry capacity (TEC) register. This in turn has prevented concrete developments from progressing.

In fact, the implementation of this new method will cut the average connection timeline from five years to just six months, Ofgem said.

It is worth noting that the 100GW figure being touted by the government and Ofgem is a quarter of the electricity that will be needed to power the nation in 2050. This perhaps showcases the importance of this action plan.

Action Plan follows National Grid ESO’s new connection queue powers

The release of the Action Plan comes fresh off the heels of National Grid ESOs new rules to terminate projects holding up the grid connection queue – something that was “well received” by the broader energy industry.

The new powers granted to ESO enables the organisation to proactively manage the connections process by terminating projects that “are not progressing against their project milestones”. This helps remove projects that are “clogging” the TEC register.

“Cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy is the key to driving down prices for households and businesses; protecting us from volatile international energy markets; and generating growth, jobs and investment at home. Building new networks capacity, in the right place, at the right time is the key to getting to net zero,” Jonathan Brearley, CEO of Ofgem.

“Today’s plans build on our work to date to meet the soaring demand for renewable electricity, while keeping the costs of the energy transition under control. It will unlock investment, accelerate new infrastructure and bring in renewable technology at scale, like hydrogen and carbon capture.

“We’re terminating unviable, stalled renewable power schemes which sit on the queue – and will fast-track new projects ready to connect. It is a big step to phasing out the first-come, first-served queuing system.”

Brearley added: “We need new power on the grid as quickly as possible. If projects are ready, they’ll be fast-tracked, if they’re a blocker, they’ll be removed. This will sweep away the barriers to ending our fossil fuel dependency by building out the transmission network and making it quicker for renewable power to connect to it.”

Grid connection overhaul tackles one of the key obstacles for the energy industry

The grid connection overhaul plans showcase a step in the right direction for the energy industry and the UK’s net zero goals. In fact, as the Energy Networks Association (ENA) explained, the announcement will “hearten everyone working hard to enable net zero”.

Lawrence Slade, CEO of the ENA, said: “Today’s announcements will hearten everyone working hard to enable net zero. We need to use every tool in the box to accelerate grid connections and ensure the country can deliver the critical infrastructure it needs as quickly as possible.

“Steps taken by the electricity network operators, Ofgem and ESO have already helped to ensure nearly 50GW of capacity is being made available to customers in 2023. That’s almost the equivalent of the UK’s peak electricity demand. The steps announced today will help increase that even further over the coming months and years.”

National Grid has also welcomed the government’s announcement with John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid, highlighting that the Action Plan will build on the progress being made on grid connections.

“Networks are critical to connect cleaner, more affordable, home-grown energy to Britain’s homes and businesses, and we welcome the bold plans set out by government today,” Pettigrew said.

“A spatial energy plan and accelerated planning consent will bring clarity, authority and urgency to what needs to be built and where, while new community benefit proposals will ensure local people remain at the heart of the energy transition. The connections action plan will deliver fundamental reforms needed to enable us to plug clean energy projects in faster and build on the progress already being made.

“The intent is clear and welcome; now these plans must be implemented at pace to capture the economic opportunity of the energy transition and keep Britain on target to achieve its climate goals.”

The government’s commitment in solving the grid connection woes is that it could attract further investment in the UK’s energy and renewables space with Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), claiming that it will provide a “likely boost for the industry”.

“On the face of it, announcements on the energy grid will help modernise our current system and are likely to be a boost for industry. Developers say long wait times are putting them off investing in the UK. A spatial plan and other measures to quicken connections for British renewables will certainly help boost our energy independence,” Ralston said.

“Taken as a whole, the Chancellor has now entered the global race for net zero industries, but currently we’re walking while the US and EU are at full sprint.”

Octopus Energy Generation CEO, Zoisa North-Bond said that the organisation is “over the moon” to see the government taking the handbrake off the grid lock.

North-Bond said: “We’re over the moon to see the government taking the handbrake off the gridlock, which will help us bring cheaper, cleaner energy to Britain faster. Renewables have the power to reduce bills for all, but decades-long grid connection queues have massively slowed us down.   

“We’re also glad that the government is looking to ease heat pump planning rules, showing that they are serious about driving the transition to clean heat and keep UK households warm without emitting further carbon.

“To bring bills down even further, we urgently need to look at the way energy is priced. Locational pricing would mean better use of the existing grid, fewer pylons in our countryside and cheaper bills for every household in Britain – it’s a win-win for all.”

This article was taken from our sister site Current± and can be read in full here.