United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Opinion: We're undaunted by grid capacity challenges for ScotWind

Since the exhilarating announcement of the new ScotWind projects in January last year, many in our industry have raised concerns about the grid’s capacity to cope with an additional 27GW of renewable energy installed over the next ten years.

There is cause for optimism despite the challenges ahead, argues Jean Lewis
There is cause for optimism despite the challenges ahead, argues Jean Lewis

We need ScotWind [the Scottish offshore auction process] to work, and people around the world are watching to see how Scotland fulfils one of the most ambitious national drives for energy transition on the planet today. 

The heat is on and it is on the National Grid and regulatory bodies, transmission-owners, and developers to work closely with the regulatory bodies to find solutions.  

There are fears that the [transmission operator] National Grid may not be able to connect the grid capacity needed for 2030 – especially considering that 10GW was originally anticipated for ScotWind. This is a misconception: there is no question that every project that applies will receive a grid connection offer.

So, the question is more about when we get the grid connection, not if we get it. A late grid connection for a project means its schedules and commissioning dates get pushed back. Another key impact would be to delay implementation of the supply chain commitments that developers have made to Scotland. 

Crucially, delays could also mean that Scotland’s and the UK’s net-zero targets get pushed back too. 

Now Read: UK spending watchdog: Lack of grid expansion plan ‘threatens climate goals’

In order to meet ScotWind’s current schedules, developers need to continue to support National Grid while they enact reforms to areas such as contract processes; and, in their turn, these reforms need to keep up their pace in order to remove uncertainty for developers.

Need for speed

For many years we have enjoyed a UK national grid that has been admired around the world. With a commercial grid model that aims to keep prices down, we have a very economic and efficient model. That’s a good thing, but it does compete with the desire to bring offshore wind online quickly.

When working with the grid, we’re used to change happening slowly due to multiple stage gates for review, but if we continue at this speed, we will struggle to build the infrastructure to support offshore wind. And, of course, there are also solar, onshore wind and battery storage facilities coming online too.

There are a lot of questions to answer because we’re in an unprecedented situation with wind. For the new offshore parts of the network, we need to figure out who designs and builds which asset, who’s going to oversee areas like the detailed network design, and which onshore policies can be adapted to the offshore network to allow projects to progress with a degree of certainty. There are a lot of unknowns here, and we are acting on good faith at the moment while these discussions happen.

Cause for optimism

I have outlined some grey areas here, but what gives us confidence that the grid will manage to accommodate ScotWind is the active level of engagement among the ScotWind developer community, the government, and the regulators. We are encouraged to provide feedback at every meeting, and we are invited to provide alternative ideas for efficient development. 

Over a 20-year career, it is the first time I have seen such a united, open, and passionate push to overcome challenges across all stakeholders. 

Within the UK, I have rarely seen such active cooperation between all parties to jointly move connections forward. 

That is why, while concerns are there and need to be aired, I will conclude by saying that while we are realistic about the challenges, we are working with optimism when it comes to grid capacity for ScotWind. 

Jean Lewis is energy export capacity manager at Thistle Wind Partners

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