The UK was warned that availability of grid connections is emerging as the number-one obstacle to its offshore wind ambitions, as the government’s own ‘champion’ for the sector said network upgrade needs to be put on “almost a wartime footing”.
Tim Pick was named as the UK’s first offshore wind champion in 2022 and as he delivered the results of a 10-month review of the sector told ministers that one European developer he spoke to had characterised Britain as “long on seabed leases, but short on timely grid connections”.
Pick – who was hired to help the UK plan a route to 50GW of offshore wind by 2030, up from about 13GW now – said in his report to energy security and net zero secretary Grant Shapps: “If you take just one message from this report, it should be the urgent need to upgrade our national grid for a world of high renewables penetration, and widespread electrification of homes and businesses.
“Grid connections are increasingly becoming the rate-limiting factor for our offshore wind deployment going forward.”
Pick, a 25-year veteran of advising on project development and former head of energy, resources and infrastructure at law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, added that the £54bn ‘Holistic Network Design’ unveiled last year by the UK’s National Grid needs “to proceed at pace, on almost a wartime footing given the growing impact of grid access constraints across the economy and the potential negative impact on investor confidence”.
Pick’s other recommendations include reducing the consenting time for projects – a major source of concern in recent years for some of the largest North Sea developers – and setting clear ambitions beyond the end of the decade for 2035, 2040 and 2050.
The offshore wind champion also wants to see a beefed-up mandate for energy regulator Ofgem to reflect the push to meet the UK’s legally-binding 2050 net zero goals, and an industrial growth plan for wind at sea.
Shapps in a reply to Pick’s report said the UK “government and offshore wind industry will need to work closely to achieve its full potential” and pointed to the newly-released Powering Up Britain strategy that met with a lukewarm reaction when it was released last week.
'Wind targets slipping out of view'
Industry body RenewableUK welcomed the findings. CEO Dan McGrail said the report “makes clear that we urgently need to speed up the process for planning and connecting projects to the grid, as well as giving Ofgem a mandate to unlock investment in net zero infrastructure.
“At the moment, it can over a decade to get a new wind farm up and running, which is time we don’t have to meet the goal of a cheap, clean power system.”
UK union the GMB claimed Pick's “damning report exposes the UK's abject failure to pursue a proper industrial strategy to meet our energy needs.
"The nation’s electricity grid has been starved of investment and now the consequences are being felt.
“The government's wind energy targets are slipping out of view and the promise that tens of thousands of skilled jobs would be created here in the UK looks like a sick joke,” claimed the union.