Solar sector backs grid overhaul plans to remove obstacles to progress 

In a statement released this week, trade body Solar Energy UK has detailed its strong support for the recommendations of the Electricity Grid Commissioner Nick Winser for a more strategic approach to developing electricity networks.

Solar Energy UK backs grid overhaul plans

In his letter and accompanying report to Government, published on Friday, he called for a “dramatic increase” in electricity transmission infrastructure and the speed at which it is delivered.

Too few transmission lines have been built over the past 30 years, and expectations are that, without intervention, it would take 12-14 years to build new ones, from conception to commissioning, he concluded.

Removing impediments

Winser’s recommendations seek to “reduce energy bills as much and as quickly as possible.” His report also recognises that, without reform, the grid network will continue to act as an impediment to net zero, powered by affordable renewable energy, due to shortages of grid capacity. This has led to long waiting times extending far into the 2030s, making some solar farms and commercial-scale rooftop solar projects financially unviable.

Jeopardising net zero

Solar Energy UK Director of Policy and Delivery Gemma Grimes said: “We greatly support the recommendations and agree that they are needed to reduce the delivery time for strategic transmission to around seven years. Any longer than seven years risks jeopardising the attainment of net zero. The changes must be taken forward as a package to be most effective.”

However, “Delivering the plan ultimately depends on Ofgem, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the planning system and government as a whole, fully backing the accelerated delivery of net zero – and enabling transmission and distribution network operators rather than constraining them,” she added.

Winser said that the key response to the grid challenge should be to draw up a ‘Strategic Spatial Energy Plan’ for Great Britain to forecast supply and demand and slash the timescale for construction to seven years.

SEUK particularly supports Recommendation 8; the creation of new ‘Electricity Transmission Design Principles’ suggesting it will result in a clearer, more open and more transparent process for proposing new grid infrastructure and the consideration of its merits by the Planning Inspectorate.

Related to this, the industry body also supported the delivery of a public information campaign on the need to upgrade the grid, as per Recommendation 12, highlighting a recent Copper Consultancy report on attitudes to solar farms that shows the general public has little awareness of why it is necessary.

Lost opportunity

The “major review of engineering and technician skills” proposed by Recommendation 15 is also key, according to Solar Energy UK, who suggest that: “Without an appropriately trained and skilled workforce in grid infrastructure at all scales, the country will be unable to connect the Government’s 70GW solar capacity target by 2035.  This, in turn, would mean a lost opportunity for thousands of additional green jobs.”

Answering the skills and grid challenges are two of the prime focus areas for the government-industry Solar Taskforce, set to deliver its roadmap for 2035 early next year.