UK offshore wind-link strategy unfit for 40GW Johnson pledge, says regulator

Andrew Lee, Recharge, 3rd February 2020

UK energy regulator Ofgem signaled a major shake-up in Britain’s future offshore wind transmission system focusing on potential shared and meshed connections, after declaring the current arrangements for transporting power to shore unfit to support government ambitions of 40GW by 2030.

Ofgem said the use of single radial links from wind farms to land – the basis of the UK’s world-leading offshore wind growth so far – will not be “economical, sensible or acceptable for consumers and local communities” as the country pursues a fourfold expansion by the end of the decade.

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The 40GW target, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his successful general election campaign in December 2019, was itself an increase on a 30GW goal that was already seen as a challenge to the UK sector.

Meeting that ambition will mean more projects, with each under the current system making landfall with their own cable and onshore infrastructure, a source of major discontent in some coastal communities. Recharge reported in 2019 how a furore over onshore works in eastern England had led local politicians to call for a freeze on planning consents until a shared connector could be sorted out.

Future offshore wind developments will also include both fixed and floating projects operating further out to sea.

Ofgem said it will work with UK system operator National Grid to “explore whether a more coordinated offshore transmission system could reduce both financial and environmental costs”.

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The regulator will plan any necessary changes to the offshore transmission regulatory regime, currently based around the OFTO system that sees wind farm developers build the links, which are then auctioned off to special purpose companies to operate them.

It also signaled a move to plan for the eagerly-awaited interconnection of European offshore wind networks.

Ofgem added: “We are discussing the potential for projects that integrate international interconnectors with offshore transmission networks with governments, other regulators and industry. We will consider how best to work with developers and network firms in order to identify regulatory barriers for future international meshed or hybrid projects.”

The announcement on offshore networks came as part of wide-ranging decarbonisation plans to get the UK’s electricity system in shape to meet the country’s net-zero ambitions for 2050.

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Rebecca Williams, head of policy and regulation at industry body RenewableUK, said: “The steps set out today are vital to enable the four-fold growth of offshore wind in this decade.

“To get the energy sector on track for net zero, we need to ensure that Ofgem's decisions support rapid decarbonisation and investment in renewables. The next step forward will be for Ofgem to set out how the grid should operate to meet net zero emissions, including the way it charges renewables for access. We look forward to working with Ofgem on this.”

National Grid said: “It’s critical that the regulator, government and industry are aligned to decarbonise the energy sector in the journey to net zero at the lowest cost to consumers, and we both welcome and share Ofgem’s commitment to achieving this”

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