The National Grid has seven years to deliver upgrades equivalent to five-times what it has achieved in the last four decades, a major industry conference has heard.
Steve Scrimshaw, CEO of energy technology developer Siemens Energy, laid out the challenge at All-Energy in Glasgow, as the UK seeks to ramp up development for offshore wind and decarbonise its electricity system by 2035.
The same panel heard from Scotitsh energy minister Gillian Martin who noted that Scotland has a huge 40GW pipeline of offshore wind projects in the pipeline.
But access to the national grid, or a lack thereof, is a major barrier to actually seeing these developed.
Mr Scrimshaw said some $3 trillion of clean energy investments will be delivered globally by 2030 from private sources – but UK Government support is needed around the “red tape” blocking projects and the need for “bigger, faster and more flexible grid to increase capacity”.
Citing a report from his company with consultancy Aurora, Mr Scrimshaw said: “National Grid needs to deliver five times as much in the next seven years as we’ve done in the last 40 years, including expanding the grid substation capacity and capability by almost 50%.
“And they are quite startling numbers.”
“Improving capacity, unlocking investment and cutting red tape will certainly move the dial forward. However, in the UK, we’re not alone in requiring additional infrastructure.”
He added that “we’re already seeing extended lead times for critical equipment” and standardised designs could help tackle the challenge.
Mr Scrimshaw also noted that the UK is competing “for finance, capacity and local projects on a global scale”, citing the huge policy pushes of the US Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s Green Deal mechanisms to drive supply chain and inward investment in renewables and low carbon infrastructure.
“Right now, we’re still a leader in this transition, but without refreshing policy to ease costs and competition we do risk falling behind in the UK,” he said.
Energy minister Gillian Martin noted the 40GW pipeline of offshore wind projects planned for Scotland’s shores, and was asked by the audience what work the Scottish Government is doing to reduce wait times for grid access.
“It’s something that I think is key to deliver net zero. Obviously, we have to look at the role that I have, I have the role of planning consent.
“We are looking at how we can actually bring down the time for that planning consent.
“There’s work ongoing at the moment to look at some of the barriers, and some of these take time.”
Ms Martin said it was crucial that community engagement is not lost in the process of cutting down consent times, but “there are other aspects of that planning consent which I do think take far too much time”.
“The thing that’s on the desk of the UK Government of course….is that the capacity of the grid isn’t sufficient to take the enormous amount of electricity that I have just gone through in my speech.
“Some of those figures there…it’s huge. It’s a huge amount of potential for electricity generation across all renewable sectors.
“The unlocking of that is dependent on those projects getting that access to the grid. That’s the only way that wr’re going to decarbonize our electricity, not just for Scotland but for the wider UK.
“That investment that’s required to increase the capacity of the grid is effectively going to answer the questions you’ve put to me today far more significantly than the planning consent aspect of things that are on my desk.”
In his report to government last month, UK offshore wind champion Tim Pick set out the urgent requirement for upgrade of grid infrastructure.
On that front, he noted that the recommendations in Network Commissioner Nick Winser’s report, due in June, “however radical, should be taken very seriously”.