Preparing for a faster, more efficient electricity connections process

Jack Presley Abbott

Jack Presley Abbott

Deputy Director of Energy Systems Management & Security

Publication date

Industry sector

Transmission Network

Just last week, we saw National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) predict that electricity demand in Great Britain will grow by 64% by 2035 as more sectors such as transport and heating switch to electricity. 

This rapid electrification is necessary to meet Government Net Zero targets to decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy by 2050 and the power system by 2035. To achieve this, we need a huge expansion of electricity infrastructure – new generation, storage, wires and pylons – to transport electricity to our homes and businesses.

Electricity connections 

The assets that either generate, store or use electricity (for example, wind farms, batteries and households) are connected via the electricity grid. If a project developer wants to connect a new project to the grid, they may need to wait for new wires and pylons to be built first and they will likely have to wait in a queue behind others also wishing to connect. The connections queue now stands at 701 Gigawatts (GW) with estimate this could rise to 800GW by the end of 2024, an amount of electricity generation that is over four times more than what is predicted we’ll need by 2050 (modelled by ESO: Future Energy Scenarios).

For context, 1GW is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity generated by 3 million solar panels or the amount of electricity used by 500,000 homes.

All this means that project developers seeking to connect to the electricity grid are now experiencing significant delays, with some customers being offered connection dates in the late 2030s.

Ofgem, Government and the companies that own and operate the grid (ESO and network companies) are working together to speed up this connections process. 

As chair of a new oversight board (the Connections Delivery Board), I’ll be blogging about what we, across industry, are doing to improve the electricity connections process by sharing my takeaways from the monthly meetings of the Board. I welcomed the feedback to provide more transparency about the discussions in these meetings to sit alongside the formal Board minutes published after each meeting. 

What have we done so far?

Ofgem and the UK Government published a joint Connections Action Plan at the end of 2023 to set out a series of actions on different parties to improve the connections process and reduce connections timescales. This built on work already in progress by ESO and network companies. We are now working on the implementation of that plan, reprioritising where needed, and holding action holders to account, including through the Connections Delivery Board.

So far, 17GW of electricity projects have been offered earlier grid connection dates through improvements to the connections process. Project developers now need to meet new delivery milestones to show that their project is progressing or face being kicked out of the queue. And as of later this week, project developers can only join the connections queue if they have evidence of formal discussions to secure the land required to build their project. 

Despite the initiatives to date, the connections queue has continued to grow at an unprecedented rate, with an average of over 40GW being added every month.

Now more than ever, we need to see the more ambitious actions from the Connections Action Plan progressed. We’re clear on the need to ensure projects that are ‘Connections Ready’ (for example, progressing towards construction) can connect faster and that to do this we may need to consider the existing queue as well as new customers.

Takeaways from the March Connections Delivery Board

At the March Connections Delivery Board, the ESO shared their ambitious proposals for a reformed queue mechanism applying to the entire connections queue that would ensure that those projects in the queue are those that are ‘connections ready’. This builds on the long term reform plans the ESO has previously set out and has the potential to significantly reduce the waiting time for projects to connect by removing speculative and stalled projects from the connections queue and creating a much more coordinated and efficient approach to connection design. It also has the potential to futureproof the connections process for how we might plan and design the whole electricity system in the years to come.

ESO is going to share further thinking in mid-April and is committed to engaging with industry as these proposals develop.

The outline proposals were welcomed by the Board with productive discussions on: 

  • how to define ‘connections ready’
  • how proposals should be developed further
  • how they could be implemented

This new ambitious approach to address the entire connections queue should consider and mitigate any potential risk, provide evidence of benefits, and robustly plan for consultation, development and implementation.

What has been discussed at the Connections Delivery Board is a steer and no decision has been made, as this will need to follow the regulatory process we have in place. 

I look forward to continuing to work with the Connections Delivery Board partners on this and other proposals to improve the electricity connections process. I will continue to drive to see benefits from this work as quickly as possible.