United Kingdom

United Kingdom

UK regulator launches offshore transmission review

UK energy regulator Ofgem has launched a review of current practices for connecting offshore wind farms to the onshore grid as the government plans to increase its ambition for the sector.

The UK government has announced ambitions for 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 (pic credit: Wikichops)
The UK government has announced ambitions for 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 (pic credit: Wikichops)

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Currently, UK developers of offshore wind farms design and install standalone transmission links to connect their projects to shore, before Ofgem auctions off the connection to a special transmission operator. 

But with more projects due to be built, Ofgem believes there is potential for efficiencies from greater coordination of offshore transmission infrastructure, it stated in its new Decarbonisation Action Plan.

The regulator will consider the financial and environmental benefits of a more coordinated approach, as part of wider plans to ensure the UK’s energy networks are capable of supporting a net-zero power system.

It is also in talks with governments, other regulators and the wider energy industry, about the potential for projects that integrate international interconnectors with offshore transmission networks.

The regulator’s new chief executive Jonathan Brearley said: “To bolster the UK’s vibrant offshore wind sector, Ofgem will explore with government and stakeholders how offshore networks could best enable the rapid growth of offshore wind power. 

“A more coordinated approach will make it easier and cheaper for the electricity that offshore wind generates to reach consumers.”

The UK government signed an offshore wind sector deal with industry in March 2019, providing a roadmap for commissioning 30GW of capacity by 2030, up from just under 9.5GW today, according to Windpower Intelligence, the research and data division of Windpower Monthly.

However, the newly formed government called for 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 in its Queen’s Speech, which outlines a UK government’s political direction for the forthcoming parliament.

With this increased ambition, Ofgem — which had previously defended the existing offshore transmission owner (OFTO) regime — has now stated that it “does not consider individual radial offshore transmission links likely to be economical, sensible or acceptable for consumers and local communities”.

RenewableUK’s head of policy and regulation, Rebecca Williams said: “To get the energy sector on track for net-zero, we need to ensure that Ofgem's decisions support rapid decarbonisation and investment in renewables. 

“The next step forward will be for Ofgem to set out how the grid should operate to meet net-zero emissions, including the way it charges renewables for access. We look forward to working with Ofgem on this.”    

At the UK industry association’s Global Offshore Wind conference in June 2019, Iberdrola’s managing director of offshore wind Jonathan Cole told delegates a more holistic approach was needed as more offshore wind farms were built.

However, RenewableUK’s head of policy Barnaby Wharton expressed concerns about whether it was possible to fully replace the OFTO regime before 2030, the date by which the government wants 40GW of offshore wind in UK waters.

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