May 28, 2024

EAC publishes 'big picture' view on UK electrification


A report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published on May 24 concluded that problems with access to the electricity grid are holding back many planned renewable energy projects. Slow connections and a lack of clear plans for energy storage mean the country risks missing its net-zero target, the committee of MPs concluded.

Its sixth report for the 2023-24 session, “Achieving sustainable electrification of the economy”, took a “broad look” at electrification in the UK. The EAC identified key issues as obstacles to electrification, including slow connection speeds, limited capacity, inadequate planning regulations and market uncertainty.

Connection Queue

The report says the current queue for connections contains more than twice the generation needed to meet the government's target of decarbonising the energy system by 2035, and access to the grid for these projects will be key to meeting the target.

To speed up the system, Ofgem and the Electricity System Operator (ESO) have set “milestones” that projects must meet, such as gaining planning permission, or risk losing their place in the connection queue. The committee's report said this has still not reduced queue lengths.

It therefore recommends that the government and Ofgem actively monitor and streamline efforts to deliver grid connections more quickly, with the report making particular reference to Ofgem's milestone queue reforms, which focus on progressing clearly ready projects to the front of the queue.

Energy Storage Strategies

Lawmakers also noted that achieving net-zero targets while maintaining energy security and avoiding energy shortages will require significant levels of low-carbon storage. However, the scale of storage needed is not yet clear, and the energy sector needs to provide strategic direction to secure private investment. Measures to deliver grid-scale storage also need to be established.

In the EAC report, the government says more efficient, localised energy flexibility systems could save up to £10 billion a year by 2050.

Governments are encouraged to address barriers to long-term storage through direct investment in infrastructure or reform of policy mechanisms such as capacity markets.

The report calls for the government to publish an energy storage strategy by 2025 setting out the short-term and long-term energy storage the UK will need to meet its net zero target.

Planning, supply chain and green skills

It also found that local governments may lack the resources or in-house knowledge to speed up clean energy projects, creating a “bottleneck” in the planning system for new projects. The EAC recommended that governments empower local governments with the manpower and expertise they need to make planning decisions quickly.

The report states: “The UK workforce as a whole is lacking the fundamental skills to deliver a net-zero energy system, yet the government has yet to publish its long-promised green skills plan, nor has it yet to reveal how it will measure progress towards its green skills target.”

The lawmakers reiterated the recommendations of the EAC's 2021 Green Jobs Report, arguing that the government should outline how it will measure progress towards the green jobs target for the purpose of monitoring and evaluating the impact of policies.

UK supply chains also require government attention, with the report recommending that the government work with industry to provide incentives to ensure that key elements of the electricity infrastructure supply chain are based in the UK. The EAC report recommends that government policy in this area should prioritise maintaining and developing the UK's clean steel industry to drive the UK's technology sector.

EAC chair Philip Dunne MP said: “The Government's commitment to fully decarbonise the UK electricity grid by 2035 – increasing electricity capacity by 250% in just over a decade – is one of the most ambitious peacetime commitments by any Government. I have seen no evidence that it can be achieved any faster.”

“There is no doubt that this project, for which there is broad agreement, will require an unprecedented level of planning and coordination across government, as well as significant private investment.

“Soon after the general election, the Government must prioritise addressing these concerns and clearly set out how it will balance delivering on its net zero target with ensuring a secure energy supply.”


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