BETTER OUTLOOK ON GRID CONNECTION ISSUES FOR SOLAR SITES
Peter ColeSep, 12 2021 3 min read
Landowners wanting to take advantage of the increased demand for renewable energy should consider how any potential solar farm site could be connected to the grid, advises Ceres Property.
Knowing whether a site is suitable for ground-based solar development can require a lengthy assessment process before connection approvals are agreed, says associate partner Peter Cole.
“Currently, there are three ways in which a solar generation scheme can be connected to the grid – transmission connection, distribution connection and private wire connection,” he highlights.
“It will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the scheme, recent upgrades to the network, infrastructure constraints, any collaboration opportunities and the red tape costs, as to which is the most suitable.”
Peter notes that where a site has not been appropriate in the past, a recent upgrade to the network may mean that it is now suitable – although issues remain due to the slow pace of developing ‘green’ infrastructure given the high demand for low carbon energy.
For a large (c.500–2000-acre) site, a transmission connection is required. These 50MW-plus schemes come under current planning legislation as National Significant Infrastructure Projects.
“As such, they need a Development Consent Order Planning application, which can allow the developers to have compulsory purchase powers,” explains Peter.
“Currently it’s an expensive and lengthy process, but there is a consultation underway to review the planning process for these larger significant energy infrastructure schemes.
“With the Government looking at how the country reaches net zero by 2050, it is likely to support these larger scale schemes in the future.”
He adds that this type of scheme is usually delivered by more than one landowner, with longer timescales involved, and points out that as National Grid installs new infrastructure to accommodate the increased demand for renewable electricity, there will be more opportunity.
Distribution connections have been the most common form of connection for solar farms to date and are responsible for the majority of constraints on the grid.
“For these, providing the scheme is under 50MW, planning is examined by the local planning authority,” notes Peter.
With Ofgem looking to invest in the network and increase the capacity, there are upgrades to the network taking place. Landowners should be aware of any changes and engage with the network operator to see if capacity has increased.
“Where a solar scheme wasn’t possible before, the situation may have changed,” he explains. “Developers are taking more risks with planning constraints now, such as sites in the Green Belts for example, so it is often worth having another discussion.”
Private Wire Connection
Private wire connections are used by private users with high electricity use for a stand-alone supply, such as data centres.
“These are high-cost connections for on-site generation, so you have to be using a lot of electricity to make it worthwhile,” he clarifies.
Private wire connections are expected to become cheaper as technology improves, meaning they may become more relevant for new developments.
“It’s worth asking questions if there’s a neighbouring development being done as there’s often the possibility of collaboration with this type of connection, which may make it viable.”
His final point is for landowners to seek independent advice if they get an approach from a developer, in order to maximise any advantage from a suitable site. “This is a rapidly growing sector and the rewards can be huge,” he concludes. “There are a number of renewables developers out there, so be sure to pick the right one for your intended project.”