Electricity grids in gridlock ?

6/2/18

Last September revealed that a new national grid connector was needed to get Hinkley C electricity up to the Midlands at a cost of a cool £840 million, provoking a severe rebuke from OFGEM. Called the Seabank Plan, it involves very big money and prospectively much higher distribution charges.

Another problem area made the news last year and will recur. It concerns  prospects for the regional distribution network companies who are the separate, next-step-down bit of the grid system. They want to develop electricity storage and smart bulk metering and to actually be able to buy and sell electricity themselves. A firm “No” came from OFGEM on grounds that another layer buying and selling and storing electricity could “impede the development of a competitive market for storage and flexibility systems”. What a mess UK energy policy is in.

Meanwhile the UK’s biggest regional distribution company, East Anglia and Suffolk’s UK Power Networks (UKPN) want to become a smart, flexible distribution “system” operator, not a “network” operator to respond to electric car use,  smart home devices and renewable supplies. Does anyone really know what’s happening ?

The Hinkley grid issue is interesting also because, going west of Bristol, through protected landscape, it then proceeds past the aged existing nuclear power site at Oldbury which is on the “potentially suitable” new nuclear sites list and ear-marked by the Horizon company who want to develop the new Wylfa Anglesey  site for nuclear power. The Wylfa project hasn’t enough money to go ahead, nor any solid subsidy prospect, so maybe the big bill from the National Grid looks like jumping the gun. If Wylfa has no money, what prospect for Oldbury ? What does OFGEM know that National Grid don’t ?

Any guess is possible.

As more emerges about grid and distribution problems, the new Infrastructure Environment Regulations 2017 ( see below) have expressly included grid issues in the “appraisal of sustainability” rules. Sounds sensible, but the picture it relates to makes doesn’t make much sense. And what is obvious is that big scale new nuclear’s uncertainties and risks and “unsustainability” are getting in the way of other perfectly sensible developments.

Further news: a major grid connector for renewable electricity from  Scotland to England & Wales looks likely to go ahead. Called The Western Link, it involves under sea cables and looks strategic. Using a Direct Current technology, it will be two-way, taking excess power over the border when renewables need topping up.

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