The UK government has come down firmly in favour of a connect-and-manage approach, as advocated by the wind industry, for speeding up connections of renewable energy projects to Britain's electricity system. This allows generators to connect to the grid without having to wait for network reinforcements.
The system operator, National Grid, will then balance the network to ensure it is not overloaded, constraining generators when required. The industry believes this will solve the problem of projects that are ready for construction being delayed through a lack of grid capacity in the windiest parts of the UK.
The support goes against the advice of energy regulator Ofgem, which favours a programme of grid capacity auctions or similar, something the industry has vehemently opposed. "We are very pleased that the argument from the industry has been heard and that connect-and-manage is what is on the table," says Gordon Edge, director of economics and markets for the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).
Up to 17 GW of renewables capacity, most of it wind, is waiting to connect to the grid. This is just part of 60 GW of total electricity generation in the queue. Currently, projects receive a connection date on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of when it is likely to start generating. Under this system, some consented projects that are ready to proceed are being held up by others at a less advanced stage of development, and connection dates being offered are as late as 2023.
In May, Ofgem approved a temporary connect-and-manage measure to bring forward connections for 1 GW of projects in Scotland that were ready to proceed. But disagreements between Ofgem and the industry over long-term reforms led to the government stepping in and taking over the consultation process (Windpower Monthly, August 2009).
Now the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) is consulting the industry on three connect-and-manage options for long-term reform of the rules governing connections. "We need these new projects to get hooked up to the grid as soon as they are ready, both to help tackle climate change and secure our future energy supplies," says energy secretary Ed Miliband. "The government will do whatever is necessary to bring about the transition to a low-carbon economy and give investors the certainty they need so that new renewable energy generation is built."
The three options differ mainly in how the costs of constraining generation under a connect-and-manage regime is shared between new and existing generators. One option is based on a simple, straightforward "socialised" model, where costs would be shared between all network users. BWEA favours this approach, noting that in a number of other national electricity markets, constraint costs are already shared across all system users with no excessive burden on consumers.
A second option, preferred by Decc, is a "hybrid" model, which would place some, but not all, of the costs on new entrants. A more complex "shared cost and commitment" third option would offer generators the choice to commit to the network (which helps long-term management of the system) in return for greater certainty over charges, or to opt out and be exposed to additional constraint costs.