Connecting to the Grid in the UK: Ultimate Guide

Topic: New wind farm projects Read Time: 10 mins
Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners
Energy: Onshore wind
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Are you in the process of connecting to the Grid in the UK? It doesn’t matter whether you’re a relatively passive landowner or a landowner-developer looking to go it alone. We’re here to demystify the process of getting a grid-connected wind turbine up and running.

Once option agreements have been signed to reserve land for a wind project, you might be wondering what happens next. You may well need to face this process first-hand if you’re running a wind project as a landowner-developer. But most landowners won’t be privy to the ins and outs of connecting to the Grid as it’s typically handled by developers.

So, if you’re scratching your head and wondering why connecting to the Grid takes a long time, stick with us. Not only will we run you through how the National Grid works, but we’ll offer insight into the behind-the-scenes process. Oh, and we’ll even touch on dealing with energy off-takers.

And if you want to take back Grid Connection for yourself at any point? We’ll cover what landowners need to consider in that department, too. Now, let’s dive in.

What is the Grid?

In its most basic terms, connecting to the grid means linking a renewable energy system with the electricity network. The National Grid (a system operator) is then responsible for transmitting this energy across the country to specific local grids. We’ll get to this later, don’t worry.

The National Grid is a central system that powers all homes and businesses in the UK (unless the site is self-sufficient). And in terms of storage, the National Grid does this with high-powered lithium-ion batteries to help electricity grids stay reliable. It’s important to mention that Great Britain is split into 14 distinct networks (or local grids). Each section connects to the National Grid. Six different network operations (as some operate more than one), with Northern Ireland having a separate grid, manage these local grids.

The National Grid runs the length and breadth of Great Britain. So, it moves almost like a highway to transport energy between these 14 regions. For example, London would be a single region, and this would be far more oversubscribed than smaller parts of Scotland. This is partly why many projects are built as close to a distinctive distribution network (one of the 14 sections) as possible.

How Do Grid Connections Work?

As we briefly mentioned earlier, the local grid is split into 14 different regions. The local grid is then responsible for distributing the energy transmitted from the National Grid.

There are some differences in regional energy prices across the 14 separate networks, and each one is licensed to distribute electricity. These regions are relatively fixed but can change slightly if a new connection is made relatively close to an existing boundary.

Network operators of these 14 regions are responsible for balancing the grid as electricity can’t be stored in large quantities. Batteries are helpful here, but they usually only boost storage by a few days. Believe it or not, operators supply electricity to meet demand for every single half-hour of each day. And as it’s difficult to predict how much energy is going to be supplied to the grid each day, balancing is a tricky task. After all, a lack of sun or wind will certainly affect renewable energy projects across the country!

Do You Need to Be Connected to the Grid?

Grid connection is key as it’s essentially the end-point of any renewable energy project. If developers (or landowner-developers) are going through the effort of building a project and producing energy, selling it is key.

The National Grid is what transports the energy produced by your turbines to customers. Now, there are instances where projects are directly connected to businesses that use this energy. For example, Dewlay Lancashire has a dedicated wind farm that directly feeds into their cheesemaking business.

Another excellent example is the Dagenham wind turbines that produce enough electricity to power 2,500 homes each year. But these 80-metre-high turbines are also located on the Ford Motor Company Estate. As a result, Ford can harness the electricity generated from the turbines to directly power production.

On the whole though, building turbines exactly where customers need their energy is impractical. And completely unworkable under the UK’s current planning permission guidelines to boot. Plus, wind projects tend to be built on viable land with excellent wind speeds, viable space, and hardy soils. So, not all areas are remotely suitable for wind production in the first place.

For this reason, electricity often has to be produced and captured in one place before being transported around.

Connecting to the Grid: How Do I Set Up My Wind Farm Project? (Step By Step)

Now, we should talk about non-contested versus contested work here just for a moment. Any kind of grid connection work will fall into these 2 categories:

Non-contestable work usually includes anything that is considered high-risk work or interferes with the 14 local grid points. This can be determining points of connection to commissioning and connecting new assets. These works are typically completed by agents of the National Grid and can’t be carried out by independent contractors.

Contestable works essentially stop the local grid points from becoming monopolies. These can be done by an independent operator or with an agent from the Grid, but the option is offered to developers.

Using an independent contractor usually lets you find a quote that works best for you, and timelines are usually quicker. In short, if you’re dealing with work that’s very close to Grid connection points, you’ll probably need an official agent to do it. Otherwise, the government has legally outlined that other work can be outsourced to independent contractors. This can be significantly cheaper than relying on Grid-appointed agents to do the whole lot.

The importance of capacity

Before we move on, we thought it was a good idea to mention the importance of capacity when connecting to the Grid.

The National Grid classifies all generation consumers based on capacity.

They’re classified into 3 groups as follows:

  • Large projects: 100MW+
  • Medium projects: 50-100MW
  • Small projects: <50MW

It’s important to note that if your connection voltage is less than 132kw, this typically goes through the District Network Operator (DNO). The DNO is a company that’s licensed to distribute electricity in the UK. They own and operate the transmission equipment that brings electricity to homes and businesses across the country.

For large wind power projects, you’ll probably be going through the National Grid Electricity Transmission.

As of March 2023, a two-step process will be introduced in England and Wales for Grid connection applications. After this, construction will start. In Scotland, the changes will be applied using the current process that’s already in place.

1: Initial offer

The first step of this new two-step process involves an initial offer of connection with standard terms. This will be offered if your site is deemed safe for connection and necessary additional work has been carried out to meet safety requirements.

It will reflect the requested connection point from the initial application but won’t include information about costs or charges. If developers accept this initial offer, it will be updated to include transmission works and charges.

an owner reviewing the two-step process contract
A person reviewing the offer contract for a grid connection

2: Follow-up offer

The follow-up offer happens once the developer has accepted step one. It will happen a maximum of 9 months after step 1 has been accepted. A meeting will then be held with the developer/customer and the Grid, and a new agreement will be presented. The entire two-step process runs for approximately 12 months while appropriate reviews are carried out.

3: Laying cables and managing the connection

The actual process of laying cables for grid connection can be done with a local contractor or through a DNO agent. Once your grid connection has been properly established, a Connections Contract Manager will usually be assigned to the site. This relationship will be in place for the duration of the energy project’s life.

The manager is usually the first point of contact for queries or changes to any National Grid agreement. The Electricity System Operator (ESO) i.e. The Grid will also manage and balance demand and supply for your site throughout its life. But if you want to disconnect a project from the Grid, you’ll need to give appropriate written notice to the ESO. They will help disconnect your project from the Grid and give you a formal certificate of disconnection.

How Long Does It Take When You’re Connecting to the Grid?

If you’re a landowner, you might be wondering exactly how long the Grid connection is going to take. Whether that’s because you’ve signed an option agreement or want to get turbines up and running – it’s a fair question.

As the Grid wasn’t originally designed for battery storage (or to be quite as modernised as it has to be), there’s a major backlog. And, that means that each project that applies for Grid connection is essentially put on a long waiting list. This waiting period can be as long as 10 years in certain regions.  And this explains why developers often apply for Grid connection ahead of time. In some cases, developers even purchase Grid connection for a viable area before a project has even been conceptualised. It’s just that valuable!

Part of this is down to the unfortunate bottleneck that’s faced by the local grid and the National Grid. As local networks need to connect to each other and the Grid, trying to figure out a connection point for new projects can take time. So, if you’re a landowner who already HAS a Grid connection, your land is already far more appealing than a site that doesn’t.

There’s no particular pattern for which regions take longer to get Grid connection than others. But there tends to be more of a bottleneck around larger cities like London. In Scotland, where there’s a surplus of energy production (and a lot of exportation), getting Grid connection is less problematic.

I’m a Landowner: What If I Want to Take Back Connection to the Grid for Myself?

As we’ve just established, Grid connection is a valuable asset. And if you’re a landowner who’d like to take this connection back for themselves, there are a few steps to follow.

Now, the Grid connection contract is technically between the network operator and the project itself. Although the project will usually be in the developer’s name, it’s specific to the site. If you want to take back Grid connection rights for yourself as a landowner, you need to terminate the current connection and set up a new one.

To do this, you’ll need to provide technical project drawings, what the impact on the Grid will be, and the characteristics of a project.

Oh, along with being able to prove that you’re the actual owner of the land. So, you’ll need to be rather clued-up if you’re planning to take back Grid connection for yourself.

It’s also worth mentioning that Grid connection isn’t usually mentioned in lease agreements. These agreements usually outline that a site operator can build and operate the site. However, site operators very rarely want to relinquish their Grid connection to a landowner, and a legal process may be required. This is a worst-case scenario, but as you are the owner of the land, the courts will typically rule in your favour.

Off-Takers

Before we round up, we thought we’d quickly discuss energy off-takers. If you’re not planning to use all produced energy onsite, there will probably be an off-taker involved in your project. So, it’s always worth getting clued-up.

What is an off-taker in renewable energy?

An energy off-taker is simply a person or business who buys the energy produced by the project. In the UK, this is usually well-known energy suppliers like EON, EDF Energy, and Octopus. These suppliers purchase energy from the wind farm directly and sell it to consumers at home or businesses.

What does the renewable energy off-take market look like?

The off-take market is shifting towards using more renewables as more consumers become interested in green energy tariffs. As a result, it’s quite competitive, and it’s relatively easy for developers to find appropriate buyers.

The suppliers spend quite a lot of time marketing to consumers to get them to sign up. Then, the off-takers go away, purchase the energy from renewable energy projects, and sell it. Luckily for the consumer, this market is heavily regulated by the Government and bodies like Ofgem.

As a result, it’s quite difficult for consumers to get a raw deal from the suppliers or off-takers. But it’s worth mentioning that suppliers are expected to carefully match supply and demand (which is no easy feat).

How does an energy off-taker impact a landowner?

As a landowner, you won’t have much of an association with off-takers unless you’re self-developing. The site operator typically deals with all off-taker interactions, and some will endeavour to get better deals than others.

Some smaller operators are often better at generating more impressive revenues as they’re under pressure to bring stable returns. On the other hand, larger operators often settle for off-takers that they have been dealing with for years. Or have experience with based on other projects.

If you’re a landowner who wants to get the best possible bang for their buck, it’s worth researching a site operator’s finances. You should be able to find out the average price that they receive for each unit of energy they sell.

The best-case scenario is when an operator isn’t particularly loyal to any off-taker. They’re just looking to get high prices from wherever they can.

There you have it: the ultimate guide to connecting to the Grid

If you have any further questions about grid-connected turbines or the National Grid itself, feel free to get in touch. Our experts can run you through setting up a new project or boosting an existing one with our innovative site management solutions.

FAQs

How much does it cost to connect to the Grid?

How much connecting to the Grid costs isn’t set in stone as it depends on your region and the size of your project. A 2MW project would likely cost around £200,000 to connect, while larger projects will have a bigger upfront cost. Although connecting to the Grid isn’t cheap, there are potentially massive economies of scale for larger projects. They tend to recoup their initial investments more quickly and have large potential profits up for grabs thanks to impressive outputs.

How much can I sell electricity to the Grid for in the UK?

On an Export and Earn Flex Tariff by British Gas, customers will get around 6.4 pence for each kWh of eligible electricity transported to the Grid. Projects usually need to provide an opening export metre reading in these cases. It’s worth mentioning that the Government’s Smart Export Guarantee ensures that you’ll be paid for every unit of electricity that’s fed back.

How easy is it to connect to the National Grid?

The application form for grid connection supposedly only takes around 15 minutes online with a site and location plan. But it’s the waiting time for a response, contract signings, and local grid Connection that can take a bit of time.

Can you live off-grid in the UK?

You can legally live off-grid in the UK if you can source alternative sources of energy for the home. This usually means you’re relying on natural gas or an existing source of energy that directly links to your home. Other people choose to install solar panels or turbines on their property to make it entirely self-sufficient.

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