For the Brits, queue-barging goes against the grain. But first-come-first-served is a poor way to manage the slew of renewable energy projects seeking a connection to the grid. With a backlog of 257 gigawatts, the queue is slowing the UK’s progress towards net zero. New applicants are receiving connection dates more than a decade into the future.
Getting a lot of renewables built and connected to the power grid is crucial if the UK is to reach its goal of net zero power by 2035. To date, some 83GW of low-carbon capacity — renewable and nuclear — has been connected, contributing almost half of the UK’s electricity in 2022. National Grid’s future energy scenarios suggest Britain needs 123-147GW by 2030. That implies a huge ramp-up in the rate of construction, especially for solar and offshore wind.
These numbers also suggest that there are more than three times as many projects in the holding pattern as are likely to be needed. Many exist in name only. The system operator, National Grid ESO, is alive to this problem. It has been trying to get zombies to leave the queue by removing the penalty to do so, and is working to speed up the current connections process. That is not likely to be enough.
To get projects up and running faster, one idea is to cherry pick the ones that are likeliest to get built. Octopus Energy has suggested the UK take a leaf out of Australia’s book, giving priority connections to projects that have their permitting and financing in place. The system operator might also highlight the areas in which it does have spare grid capacity so that keen developers can rush to build where they will not need to wait for network reinforcements.
Such queue-barging is unlikely to be popular with projects that already have connection dates. But other countries, such as Germany and France, already restrict applications to projects with all their paperwork in place. Australia, which used to have a system akin to the UK’s, has changed the rules. With such a monumental task ahead, the power system needs to break this gridlock.