The biggest concern for much of Scotland’s offshore wind industry is grid connection. With a massive 415GW of projects in the queue to be connected up and many projects waiting 15 years to get connection, the word on everyone’s lips at the recent Offshore Wind Conference in Glasgow was ‘grid’.

Stephen McKellar, Senior Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, which organised of the event, said: “The UK’s electricity network is not fit for purpose.”

“With electricity demand set to increase by 50% in the next decade," he said, "and double by mid-century as heat and transport decarbonise, an electricity network that ensures customers can connect to the electricity network where and when they need to is crucial to achieving net-zero, reducing consumer bills and maintaining energy security.

“Time is of the essence if we want to meet our net-zero targets but one of the key barriers our industry faces is the time it can take for renewable energy generation projects to connect to the grid.

One of the biggest issues is the connecting up of the potential 30GW of offshore wind energy that could be delivered by ScotWind’s leasing. This represents a massive leap from the seven offshore windfarms currently operating in Scottish waters, with a total generating capacity of 1.9 GW.

There are 20 ScotWind projects in the pipeline, all of which need to be connected to the grid.

Melissa McKerrow, head of external affairs and policy at Ocean Winds, which has three developments in the Moray Firth, said: “Projects which might be able to start generating this decade are being offered connection dates quite far in the future.

"But I can really appreciate that from the grid and transmission side these are projects that will take multiple years to build and there’s not been this level of investment in grid infrastructure since probably the 1960s when coal fire power stations were first connected to the grid.” ”

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Also frequently mentioned at the conference were “zombie projects”.

These are projects that often have stalled but still maintain their place in the connections queue on the transmission energy capacity register.

In November Ofgem announced new rules to allow stalled projects to be thrown off the list waiting to be connected. Then, in December National Grid ESO published its final recommendation for long-term grid connections reform and mandated for a “first ready, first connected” approach.

This strategy supports projects that can deliver at speed and ensures the connections queue can no longer be bogged down by zombie projects, many of which are speculative or without planning permission and unlikely to complete.

The report noted that in the six months prior to its publication a mammoth 175GW of capacity was added to the queue. It said: “The total transmission queue currently stands at 420GW and this alone represents over 7 times more capacity than the current peak demand in Great Britain (of 58GW) and over 4 times more capacity than the potential peak demand in Great Britain in 2050 ( f 98GW).”

It has also been calculated that if all the projects were completed they would deliver more than twice the energy that has been calculated to be needed to meet the goal of decarbonising the power system by 2035.

Mr McKellar said: “Scottish Renewables has argued for some time that a fair and proportionate method of dealing with the growing number of projects in the connection queue is crucial, but it is essential that decisions on moving or removing projects are made with the best evidence available to avoid unintended consequences.

“There are just over 70 months left to achieve our targets of 11GW offshore wind and 12GW onshore wind. To ensure we maximise the enormous socioeconomic benefits this will bring to local communities, we urgently need a grid fit for the 21st century.”

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The key strategy document that will show the pathway for offshore wind connections in Scotland, the Transitional Centralised Strategic Network Plan is still to be published and is due in March.

Only one of Ocean Wind's three Moray Firth projects said Ms McKerrow, is awaiting grid connection confirmation.

While the grid connection location is clear for Caledonia they are still awaiting the detail of the final grid connection date for the full 2GW capacity, said Ms McKerrow.

“With the Caledonia project, we need confirmation from National Grid ESO and no delays to allow us to progress that project. We need National Grid ESO and Transmission Owners to say that the grid will be ready by 2030.

What, she said, offshore wind developers are hoping to see in that document is some kind of commitment that the grid will be ready. “We need the UK Department of Energy and Net Zero and Ofgem to hold the transmission operators accountable for delivering those works in a timely manner that will allow us to deliver the project on time.”

“Frustrating as it can be sometimes as a developer-operator having to wait, we understand the scale of what needs to happen. There are a huge amount of projects in the queue, particularly in Scotland, waiting to connect. However, prioritisation needs to be given to offshore wind projects that can delivered this decade.”  

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “We’re driving forward the biggest reforms to our electricity grid since the 1950s – halving the time it takes to build networks, speeding up grid connections, supporting thousands of jobs and reducing bills in the long-term for families.

“This builds on Ofgem’s decision to accelerate nearly £20 billion of strategic transmission investment to help cut delays in projects up to 2030, including new capacity between Scotland and England, ensuring we continue to make necessary improvements so homes can be powered by cleaner and greener energy.”

The UK Government has published jointly with Ofgem The Connections Action Plan which is set to overhaul the way new projects access the grid, drastically reducing the time it takes viable projects to connect. Through these reforms, we aim to reduce the average delay a viable project faces to connect to the transmission network from 5 years to 6 months.