UK Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng has announced the scope of a review into the existing offshore transmission regime to address the barriers it presents to further significant deployment of offshore wind, with a view to achieving net zero ambitions
The current approach to designing and building offshore transmission was developed when offshore wind was a nascent sector and industry expectations were as low as 10 GW by 2030. It was designed to derisk the delivery of offshore wind by leaving the project developers in control of building the associated transmission assets to bring the energy onshore. This approach has contributed to the maturing of the sector, the significant reduction in costs of offshore wind energy and has helped position the UK at the forefront of global offshore wind deployment.
However, in the context of increasingly ambitious targets for offshore wind, constructing individual point-to-point connections for each offshore windfarm may not provide the most efficient approach and could become a major barrier to delivery given the considerable environmental and local impacts, particularly from the associated onshore infrastructure required to connect to the national transmission network.
“Offshore wind is expected to play an important role in delivering net-zero emissions by 2050, and it is right that the framework for delivering offshore transmission connections is reviewed in the context of our increased ambition,” said the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
In their 2020 report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change called for government to "Develop a strategy to co-ordinate interconnectors and offshore networks for windfarms and their connections to the onshore network and bring forward any legislation necessary to enable co-ordination."
The review, launched by Minister Kwasi Kwarteng at a round-table meeting of MPs and other interested stakeholders, will bring together the key stakeholders involved in the timing, siting, design and delivery of offshore wind to consider all aspects of the existing regime and how this influences the design and delivery of transmission infrastructure. Its terms of reference, as agreed with delivery partners and stakeholders in the sector, focus on identifying tactical near-term actions that can be taken and early opportunities for co-ordination for projects in the short- to medium-term, plus a longer-term strategic review to develop a new regime that can ensure a more co-ordinated approach for the future.
Electricity System Operator executive director Fintan Slye said, “Assessing the most beneficial approach to offshore connections will be vital to offshore wind reaching its potential to facilitate net zero in a way that minimises the impact on consumers and coastal communities. We are very supportive of BEIS taking forward this important project, in which we look forward to playing our part.
“We are currently carrying out a project to assess the costs and benefits of different co-ordinated offshore network designs and the technology available to deliver them. We are also assessing whether changes could be made to the offshore connections regime to encourage more co-ordination and whether there is a role for us to remove some of the other barriers to a more co-ordinated approach, such as in technical and commercial network codes and standards.”
Crown Estate Scotland head of energy and infrastructure John Robertson said a co-ordinated approach to transmission connections “is an important part of ensuring Scotland is well set up to benefit from the potential expansion of offshore wind.” Mr Robertson said Scotland’s recently launched leasing round, ScotWind Leasing, has created a pathway for developers to invest in Scotland, but there are many other steps which need to happen in tandem with this to make the most of the opportunity and help us get to net zero.
Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said the UK’s 2030 offshore wind target requires a step-change in the way offshore generation and transmission is planned, developed and connected. “This will help our world-leading offshore wind sector to increase capacity and Britain to achieve net zero while ensuring the cost to consumers is minimised,” he said. “We welcome the strong collaboration and BEIS leadership these terms of reference formalise. We look forward to our continued work with BEIS and other partners on reviewing the offshore transmission regime so that it is fit for delivering net zero.”
The review will be led by BEIS with support from a range of government and Industry bodies and an industry expert group. It will be split into two main workstreams. A medium-term workstream will seek to identify and implement changes to the existing regime to facilitate co-ordination in the short-medium term; assess the feasibility and costs/benefits of centrally delivered, enabling infrastructure to facilitate the connection of increased levels of offshore wind by 2030; explore early opportunities for co-ordination through pathfinder projects, considering regulatory flexibility to allow developers to test innovative approaches; and focus primarily on projects expected to connect to the onshore network after 2025.
The long-term workstream will seek to conduct a holistic review of the current offshore transmission regime and design and implement a new enduring regime that enables and incentivises co-ordination while seeking to minimise environmental, social and economic costs; consider the role of multi-purpose hybrid interconnectors in meeting net zero through combining offshore wind connections with links to neighbouring markets and how the enduring offshore transmission regime can support the delivery of such projects; and focus on projects expected to connect to the onshore network after 2030.
The review will provide regular updates for external stakeholders and will hold roundtables chaired by Minister Kwarteng to ensure progress of the review is communicated and that there is early and regular opportunity for challenge.
BEIS will publish an update by the end of 2020, with a view to providing clarity for an enduring approach in 2021. Policy recommendations and proposed changes to the existing regime will be delivered through the usual consultation process.
Riviera held a series of webinars on offshore wind in June. These are available to view in our webinar library