Is The UK Grid Really Compatible With Renewable Energy? Worries After Several Green Projects Put On Hold

Today, one of the biggest global concerns is the transition to renewable energy and how this will be achieved. Unfortunately for the UK progress has been worryingly slow and, now, news has broken that billions of pounds worth of green energy projects are currently on hold because they are unable to plug into the electricity system.

The BBC has reported that new solar and wind sites are having to wait for prolonged periods of time, up to 10 to 15 years, to be connected because of a lack of capacity in the UK National Grid. 

Reviewing UK Climate Goals

The UK has a target of 100% of its electricity being produced without carbon emissions by 2035. 

Considering this goal is less than 15 years away and the government has already spent £198 billion on renewable power infrastructure since 2010, there are increasing concerns over how far away we are from our green goal.

The National Grid is the system operator of Great Britain’s electricity and gas supply and, as such, it is at the heart of working to accelerate the development of our clean energy future. 

However, if the grid is to be successful in supplying the UK with renewable energy, fundamental reform is needed. 

In order to meet its target goal, the UK is in desperate need to increase the number of renewable projects taking place across the country. Alas, this would mean around five times more solar and four times more wind power than is currently being produced.

Besides the UK, the US is having similar problems in achieving its net zero goals. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that plans to install 3,000 acres of solar panels in Kentucky and Virginia have been delayed for years. Minnesota, North Dakota, Massachusetts and Maine also have solar panel plans that are either faltering or downright failing to take off the ground. 

Whilst the US does not have one single grid, the States operate on dozens of electric networks which are having similar problems to the UK. So many projects are trying to squeeze through the approval process that delays can drag on for years, leaving some developers throwing up their hands and simply walking away.

It now takes an average of roughly four years for developers to get approval in the States. Whilst this is less time than developers are having to wait to connect to the UK grid, it is double the time it took for developers to be approved in the US a decade ago.

The Opportunities Of Wind And Solar Power 

It is becoming increasingly essential for the UK to supply wind and solar people to people’s homes due to the success this could have on our journey to having a fuel-free grid. 

Esme Stallard, Climate and Science Reported at the BBC, reported this Thursday that, for the first time in the UK, wind turbines have generated more electricity than gas. 

In the first three months of this year, a third of the country’s electricity came from wind farms, research from Imperial College London has shown. The grid has also confirmed that April saw a record period of solar energy generation.

But a new solar site or wind farm can only start supplying energy to people once it has been successfully plugged into the grid. This highlights the necessity of getting the UK grid up to speed with its connection queues so that we can have any hope of meeting our net zero goal in 2035.

Green Projects Left Sitting In The Connections Queue

Currently, the BBC has calculated that there is more than a whopping £200 billion worth of projects sitting in the National Grid connection queue.

Whilst around 40% of these projects need to wait for at least a year before connection, Energy companies like Octopus Energy – one of Europe’s largest investors in renewable energy – have been told by National Grid that they need to wait up to 15 years for some connections to take place. 

Zoisa North-Bond, Chief Executive of Octopus Energy Generation, has complained about the current issues with the UK grid system, stating that: “We currently have one of the longest grid queues in Europe”. 

In short, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK National Grid simply cannot keep up. A grid that was made to support just a few fossil fuel power plants simply cannot deal with so many new projects applying to be connected. 

Searching For An Answer

In response to its struggles, the grid is tightening up criteria so that only really promising green projects will join the queue.

To help the grid, besides easing up pressure on its waiting list, in order to reach net zero goals it will also need huge amounts of investment so that it can be fundamentally restructured and reformed. 

Roisin Quinn, director of customer connections, says that “Fundamental reform is needed” for the grid to be able to support a net zero UK in the future. “More infrastructure is needed. We are working very hard to design and build at a faster pace than we ever have done before.”

In order to get the investment it needs, Ofgem – the energy regulator which oversees the operators – has agreed for the National Grid to raise an additional £20 billion over the next 40 years from customer bills to pay for the huge upgrades it needs.

Whilst this may help the National Grid, this is bad news for UK customers who have already seen household prices soar over the last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which put pressure on energy supply lines. 

All in all, the figures aren’t currently adding up to a happy ending. The UK wants to get to net zero emissions in less than 15 years, but the National Grid has 10 to 15-year queues for renewable projects to be connected. 

Even with the National Grid tightening up criteria so that only really promising projects will join the queue, this plan will ease the problem as opposed to mending it, and UK citizens are already under a lot of financial strain without the need to pay even more to update the grid.

The UK government is due to announce a new action plan for speeding up connections later this year. So, only time will tell if the government can really come up with a new approach that is able to breathe new hope into completing the country’s net zero emission goals by 2035.