Solar Grid Connection: A Step-By-Step Rundown for Landowners

Topic: solar projects Read Time: 10 mins
Landowner type:
Independent landowners | Institutional landowners
Energy: Solar
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Are you looking for a detailed rundown on solar Grid connection in the UK? Whether you’re just curious or are interested in boosting your passive income as a landowner, we’ve got you covered.

So, you’ve signed your option agreement  and are ready to get a project up and running on your land. That’s excellent news. But what happens once your developer has carried out feasibility studies and given your plot the green light? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Getting a solar Grid connection is one of the most significant parts of the roadmap towards getting a fully-operational project on your land. Although landowners won’t be heavily involved in the process, it’s always good to be in the know.

In this simple but comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything from the Grid connection process to the importance of off-takers and clear timelines. Oh, and we’ll even fill you in on what you need to do if you’re looking to take back the solar Grid connection for yourself. So, let’s get to it.

If you’re a landowner who’s entirely new to the renewable energy space, you may be trying to figure out exactly what a solar farm IS. To understand what a solar farm is, it’s vital to differentiate between small-scale residential projects and commercial projects.

Residential projects typically consist of a small number of solar panels mounted onto the roof of a property. They produce enough energy to power (or partly power) a property. On average, a residential solar panel system consisting of 12 panels would generate around 3,180 kWh of electricity every year. This energy directly services the home in question and isn’t typically sold to the Grid as there isn’t enough electricity to make it viable.

A solar FARM, on the other hand, is a large-scale project comprising rows of ground-mounted panels. In terms of requirements for land, it can cover anything from 1 acre to 100 (or more) acres. They’re typically found in rural areas with lots of excess land and can be as large as 72.2MW in the UK. The largest solar farms in the world produce energy that runs into gigawatts. In case you were curious, Golmud Solar Park comes out on top with a whopping 2.8GW capacity.

There are also different types of solar panels depending on the project type. So, if you’d like to get a solar farm on your land, you’ll need a decent amount of space to do so.

Before we cover solar Grid connection in the UK, let’s quickly run through what the National Grid is (and why it’s important).

The National Grid is a central system that’s responsible for powering all homes and businesses in the UK. The only exception to this rule is if a site is self-sufficient and uses its self-produced electricity to meet all of its energy needs.

The Grid itself consists of a high-voltage transmission system that connects electricity from power stations to substations. The National Grid then feeds energy through to fourteen distinct, local networks (or local Grids, as they’re technically called). Six different network operators are responsible for managing these local Grids and ensuring that all properties around the UK receive sufficient power.

An infographic showing the network distribution map in the UK

However, despite there being six different distribution companies across the UK, the Ofgem price cap creates a maximum price per kilowatt hour. This keeps the market fair for consumers and regulates the amount that companies can charge. As energy is required for properties around the country to function, it’s only fitting that an external body steps in to avoid public exploitation.

Now, these local regions are all different, and some areas can require far more energy than others of the same size.  For example, London’s energy needs are far higher than Scotland’s or Wales’s. So, you’d expect that the local Grid in London would be far more oversubscribed and face more challenges than the smaller Grids.

Because the Grid is such a complex network, projects are usually built as close to a distinctive distribution network as possible. For that reason, your property will be particularly appealing to solar developers if it’s right by a potential connection point.

Solar Grid connection works much in the same way as any other type of renewable Grid connection in the UK. As we mentioned earlier, the fourteen local Grids are each licensed to distribute electricity across the country. Although these connection points are relatively set in stone, the regions may shift slightly if a new connection is made near an existing boundary.

The fourteen local Grids are responsible for balancing the electricity across the Grid as it’s impossible to store large amounts of energy long-term. While batteries are used in the Grid system, they only have enough capacity to increase storage by a few days to a week. For that reason, balancing the supply across the Grid can be extremely difficult. If you’re wondering why, it’s mainly because predicting how much energy each network requires daily is impossible. Equally, solar projects aren’t always reliable during the winter months when days are short and irradiation is lower.

The first thing to note here is that landowners working with a developer won’t be responsible for setting up the connection yourself. As a landowner, you’ll generally relax as your developer requests a Grid connection for your property. If you already have a Grid-connected project, you’ll naturally skip this step (and be a very appealing prospect).

At present, the Grid connection process has three main steps. These are:

  • The initial offer
  • The follow-up offer
  • Laying the cables and managing the connection

When a developer applies for Grid connection, this is generally reviewed based on the size of the project at hand. This is because the National Grid carefully defines projects based on capacity and splits them into three groups.

They are classified as follows:

  • Small projects: Less than 50 MW
  • Medium projects: Between 50 MW and 100 MW
  • Large projects: Over 100 MW

If a connection voltage is less than 132kw, this will typically go directly through the District Network Operator (DNO) that’s relevant to your area. This company distributes electricity around the UK and funnels it through to homes and businesses.

But for LARGE solar projects (like solar farms), these will go through a distinctive step-by-step process that we’ll outline below. These applications will go directly through the National Grid.

Now that we’ve given you some context, let’s dive into these steps in more detail.

Professionals reviewing a grid connection offer
  • The initial offer happens after a developer has applied to a new connection.
  • It will only be offered if the National Grid (or DNO) has determined that the site is safe for connection.
  • This early offer doesn’t usually outline costs or charges of connection but will mention the requested connection point.
  • If this offer moves to the next stage, it WILL include transmission works and charges that are relevant to the project.

  • A follow-up will come at a maximum of 9 months after the initial offer is accepted.
  • A meeting is then held between the developer and the Grid to draw up a connection plan.
  • The initial offer and follow-up offer process usually takes around 12 months to complete.
  • The DNO will carry out a network study to ensure that the local Grid network can take the extra power that your solar PV system will generate. If the local Grid network needs extra work before it can accept your connection, this will have to be done at the developer’s own cost.
  • The DNO has 45 days to provide the developer with a quotation for this work, and it must be able to justify the costs it wants to charge.
A professional reviewing a grid connection

A professional checking if the solar panels are in compliance for a solar grid connection
  • The process of laying the cables is usually organised through a DNO agent or a local contractor.
  • Once this is properly established, a Connections Contract Manager will be assigned to the site. This individual is responsible for the site throughout its duration (although it may change hands across a project’s life).
  • The manager will be the first point of contact for any issues that arise OR if there are any changes to the agreement at hand.
  • After the developer signs the agreement, the Grid will manage and balance demand and supply for the site.

If you’re getting a solar Grid connection on your land, you’ll also need to consider the following works while your project is up and running. Some of these electrical works will take place at the construction phase, and some will run into the management phase.

  • Equipment at the point of connection
  • Electrical switchgear for protection and disconnection of the feeder circuits
  • Transformers and switchgear for solar arrays
  • Reactive compensation equipment
  • Electrodes and systems for the ground-mounted panels
  • CCTV installation for monitoring the project
A woman reviewing other necessities for a grid connection

Off-takers are essentially parties who buy the electricity produced by a project. In our case, it would be the party who purchases part or all of the electricity produced by your solar farm. They’re essential for renewable energy projects as they ensure all electricity produced has somewhere to go. Although some projects use all their energy on site (like the Yorkshire cheese makers Dewlay), this is relatively rare. 

Instead, most developers will need to find a purchaser for the energy produced by their project – and that’s where the off-takers come in. Off-takers are heavily regulated by the government and aim to purchase electricity at a price that remains fair for the consumer.

Although these off-takers don’t have much impact on landowners, some developers may try to sell the energy to a loyal off-taker at a bargain price. So, it’s always important to check in with your developer on your site’s price per unit of energy. 

It’s in your best interest as a landowner to receive the best price for energy produced on your land. So, if you think your developer is overly loyal to an off-taker, this may well reduce the overall payments you receive.

You might think that Grid connection is a relatively quick and straightforward process for most sites. But as there’s an enormous backlog for solar projects at present, the majority of projects are looking at connection dates past 2030.

We WILL give you some hope here by saying that a lot of this waiting time will fall under the project’s initial option agreement. However, if the Grid connection process drags on, it can quickly force your option agreement to extend or collapse. This significant backlog of projects is due to the sheer number of applications coming through to the Grid.

According to Peter Kavanagh (CEO of Harmony Energy):

picture of yellow quotation marks

They’ve got 176GW in connections coming through, and there’s only 50GW/60GW connected on the system already.

Unless the capacity of the system improves significantly in the next few years, the backlog will only get worse.

Octopus Energy CEO Greg Jackson also noted that there was extreme pressure on the system. He said that the Grid granted connection for a solar site in Durham for 2036. Considering the application is otherwise ready to go, this is undoubtedly disappointing if the UK is looking to move towards net-zero.

Although the Grid connection backlog can feel extreme, most developers will put in several Grid connection applications in advance. So, by the time they reach the front of the queue, the lease agreement and planning requirements should be in place.

As developers will also have a decent amount of time to accept the offer for connection, they should be able to tie up any loose ends before accepting. For many developers, issues faced along the way will also mean they simply release the offer for Grid connection. This should move the queue along more quickly for the rest of the people in the queue.

In short, I don’t think it’s as bad as it first appears.

Although your developer is responsible for setting up Grid connection, they don’t technically OWN IT. Now, the project will remain connected to the Grid for its entire life cycle. However, if you don’t wish to repower or continue with the project after the lease lapses, you can take back the Grid connection for yourself. 

As this is an incredibly valuable commodity (based on the current backlog for new projects), it’s certainly worth looking into. As you might expect, taking back the Grid connection isn’t a case of simply stating your intentions and moving the connection into your name.

Instead, you’ll need to:

  1. Prove that you’re the owner of the land with the Grid connection
  2. Provide technical project drawings of the site (and its general characteristics)
  3. Explain what the impact on the Grid would be if you took back the connection for yourself

Because Grid connection is incredibly valuable, most site operators don’t particularly want to give it up to a landowner. You may need to go into a legal process to get the Grid connection moved over. While this can be pricey, the overall ruling will usually go in the landowner’s favour – and that’s because they OWN THE LAND.

In many cases, the dispute won’t even reach the courts. Many site operators realise that a judge is unlikely to rule in their favour. For that reason, they may well relinquish the connection before it reaches this stage.

Getting a solar Grid connection can be a rather lengthy process. However, the onus is entirely on the developer to sort this out for your site. As a landowner, you can sit back, relax, and wait for further news on Grid connection.

If you have any further questions on solar Grid connection (or are interested in getting a project on your land), get in touch. Our renewable energy experts are happy to guide you through everything you need to know about getting started. You might earn more income from your land than you ever thought possible. Hey, it’s worth thinking about.

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