Action is needed early in this new government to address the growing difficulties the solar industry faces connecting to the grid. Problems are routine for solar farms, but commercial roof projects are also affected.

A strategy of muddling through risks a crisis for the delivery of a low-carbon system in the next decade. This has implications beyond renewables – it affects UK national infrastructure priorities as the grid increasingly affects transport, communications and construction. This crisis is building just as wind and solar have competitiveness with fossil fuels in their sights. Consumers will lose out badly if the lowest cost generation technologies are physically inhibited by the energy system. Meeting the national carbon reduction targets will also be difficult.

Despite a myriad of technical groups devoted to resolving grid barriers, the transformation needed on the networks lags far behind what is needed. The future evolution of the network is clouded by uncertainty and misinformed by astonishing underestimates in the rate of renewables deployment. Alarmingly the 14 DNOs are projecting just 6.6GW of solar capacity connected to their networks by 2023 – the period which is covered by Ofgem’s new RIIO-ED1 framework. As any regular Solar Power Portal readers will know, the UK’s solar capacity today already exceeds this. That’s quite a mismatch – but it explains a lot.

The Solar Trade Association now has a Strategic Grid group looking at how to address these issues in response to the high level of member concern. What is clear is that we need to work with others, since a very wide range of stakeholders risk being affected. The greatest challenge is that a coherent vision for a 21st Century grid is missing. Nobody can blame the Distributed Network Operators (DNOs) for lagging behind if they have no specific plan to work to. The Department of Energy and Climate Change’s 2014 Smart Grid Vision and Routemap is clearly not a project plan.

The new Strategic Policy Statement which Amber Rudd, as Secretary of State, will be giving to Ofgem early in the new government is probably the best opportunity to give urgently needed strategic direction to the networks. The current draft is explicit about ensuring developers ‘can secure timely and cost-effective access to the network.’ It would be extremely helpful if the new Secretary of State could convene a working group to ensure this happens in practice.

National Grid’s System Operability Framework, introduced in 2014 in response to the rapidly changing energy landscape, provides another opportunity to highlight performance requirements and develop effective operational solutions.

What is needed is both a clear map for a modern power network and a robust change management programme to align regulations, costs, codes and standards towards achieving this. The IET advocate a ‘System Architect’ to coordinate this transformation. In the meantime there are important near-term goals to win, including better coordination of input into technical groups by the renewables sector and securing fairer cost socialisation under Ofgem’s Quicker and More Efficient Distribution Connections consultation.  Existing documents that support the rollout of renewables urgently need to be updated including DECC’s Smart Grid Vision, National Grid’s System Operability Framework; and RIIO-ED1.

The industry could help practically by demonstrating the flexibility of solar, its ability to provide grid services and implement Active Network Management (ANM) to National Grid and the DNOs.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t successfully manage it. If we are to explain the extent to which the grid now risks inhibiting modern technological development to government and MPs we need to be able to quantify the problem. The STA and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have just issued a relatively short survey for the solar industry which includes a significant section on grid issues. We need to hear about the difficulties the solar industry is facing connecting to the grid, in particular the costs of connections, where we have heard some extraordinary examples. If you are in the solar industry and you recognise the situation described above, then please help us to help you and take five minutes to fill in this important survey.

The STA & PWC survey can be filled out here:

Results will be available on this website soon!