To receive a presentation on National Grid Connections in Gloucestershire and plans for improvement.
4.1 Stuart Jones and Barrie Hill, National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET), gave this presentation. They explained that there was a significant growth projected in contracted generation by 2030 and this was not matched with expected need. It was also explained that each new connection required a bespoke physical connection to connect with the transmission system, and each new connection required more complex work. This meant that customers further back in the queue would be more difficult to connect. The application for a position in the queue was explained to cost in the £10,000s and customers were allocated on a first come first served basis. It was stressed that this first come first serve process created backlogs when the next customer in the queue had not met their connection milestones on their end. The intention was to implement a two-step process which would allow the National Grid team to move past stalling customers. Several further steps that were hoped would speed up the connection process were also explained. It was explained that locally (South Wales and South West), the grid was at capacity for new generation connection applications. This meant that any new applications to connect up a solar or wind farm would be held off for at least 10 years. Over 30GW of generation was contracted for connection in the region and another 30GW was in the application process. This meant that, more so than nationally, the South Wales and South West region had significantly more contracted generation than expected use. The National Grid team were working on reinforcing a few key circuits in the region and the hope was that those reinforcements would free up capacity to connect customers that were already contracted. It was also explained that significant new 400kV electricity connections in the region would require a new substation as the Walham Substation was full. It was highlighted that, for National Grid, the restrictions on supply connections were not seen on the demand side.
4.2 In response to a question about who decided which connections to make, it was explained that the rules around connections were codified and National Grid had to follow them. It was explained that if a customer applied for a connection, they would have to make a valid offer to National Grid. It was explained that there were currently customers that were ready to provide energy to the grid, but were waiting because of works required on the transmissions system and/or the distribution system.
4.3 A member asked for clarification around the frameworks that had been discussed. It was explained that those frameworks related to how the National Grid team received their funding from Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets). Under the regulatory framework, if there was no driver (i.e. a customer application) for the work then National Grid would not receive funding. This meant that they could not work pro-actively and build capacity in anticipation of customers.
4.4 In response to a question on brownfield development sites, it was explained that even though those sites could have already been connected to the grid when they were operating in an industrial capacity, when redeveloped, they would still need to go through the process and wait in the queue if work needed to be done.
4.5 In response to a question about the DNO (Distribution Network Operator), it was explained that National Grid Electricity Distribution (NGED) was the main provider for Gloucestershire.
4.6 In response to a question about a mismatch in supply and demand, it was explained that the current grid was built for coal power plants and nowadays generation was much more sparsely distributed. The change to solar and wind generation did mean that there was a disconnection between power use and power supply and the intention was to avoid asking the public when to use electricity by targeting large industrial partners to reduce electricity use when supply was lowest. It was also explained that there was a secondary market for places on the connections queue and that was causing significant problems.
4.7 In response to a question about the intentions in Gloucestershire for new renewable energy projects, it was explained that genuine and viable new projects were very welcome, it was the projects taking up space in the queue that were going nowhere that were causing problems. However, there would still be significant delays to new renewable projects set up due to the queue and the time it took to develop infrastructure for big new projects. National Grid were looking at how batteries could be used to support the system and its oversupply.
4.8 A member asked about local decarbonisation schemes like electric vehicle charging points, it was explained that in theory additional charging points would not be a problem for transmission, but they might have practical requirements such as needing to dig up roads to put in new cables.
4.9 A member asked about the relationship between National Grid and NGET. It was explained that NGET was one of four subsidiaries under the National Grid umbrella company. It was explained that NGET had to be treated like any other external company and could not be treated favourably. It was acknowledged that that relationship could be confusing to the public.
4.10 In response to a question about small modular reactors that were planned for Gloucestershire, it was explained that those would have to wait until at least 2037/38 to be connected and under the current rules, there would be no mechanism for expediting the connection of those projects.
4.11 In response to a question about blackouts, it was explained that there were periods last winter where the system was close to blackouts and that was because of a series of unlikely scenarios that aligned. Had there been further stress on the system at that time then local blackouts could have been triggered. It was explained that the UK’s network was 99.9999% reliable and further reinforcing the system to be resilient to all those unlikely events co-occurring would be very expensive.
4.12 A member asked about a large local development facility that was in discussions with the DNO about being provided with more electricity. The officer explained that DNOs charged what new connections would cost them. That meant that the first customer in an area would be required to pay more, as future customers would require less additional work.