To become energy secure, it is not enough to build new clean sources of power. Just as important is building the infrastructure to bring that power into people’s homes. A future where we use more electricity for electric vehicles and heat pumps and get more of it from smaller renewable projects will require a massive investment in our national grid. In fact, Britain needs to build more grid infrastructure in the next six years than was built in the last three decades.

It can be done. In fact, we’ve done it before. In 1928, the Central Electricity Board began work on building a new national grid. In the space of five years, they accomplished their goal having built 4,000 miles of pylons.

Britain’s skilled technicians and engineers are up to the challenge, but they can only succeed if our planning system changes with it. To build a single transmission line between Beauly and Denny (137 miles) took almost twice as long as it did to plan and build the grid in the first place.

When there isn’t enough grid infrastructure to transmit energy from where it is generated to where it is needed wind farms get paid to stop generating. In 2021, this cost billpayers half a billion pounds collectively. These payments will keep rising, unless we get building those grid connections.

Our failure to build enough grid infrastructure holds back investment too. New solar projects are put on hold because developers are told they have to wait 13 years for a grid connection. Major housing developments in West London have been cancelled because they can’t be connected to the grid.

We also need to ensure that a renewable grid is backed up by long duration energy storage to ensure that when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, the lights stay on.

To enable a generational investment in grid infrastructure and long-duration storage technologies will require us to slash development timelines and make it much easier to invest ahead of demand.


Enabling massive anticipatory investment in the grid

To make Britain energy secure by 2030 will require a massive investment in our grid, but Ofgem’s current price controls make it impossible to build in anticipation of demand. Ofgem's rules may have worked in the past before the rise of renewables, but the rules are no longer fit for purpose. National Grid has set out a plan to invest £58bn into upgrading the grid, but the investment can only happen if it gets approved by Ofgem. To ensure this plan can be delivered, the newly-created Future Systems Operator should be granted the power to direct Ofgem to approve investment in upgrading the transmission network.


Speeding up planning processes and creating a spatial plan

It simply takes too long to get new grid connections approved. To speed up delivery, planning processes should be reformed to ensure that any Future Systems Operator backed plan to upgrade network capacity that follows accepted design rules (e.g. built near existing major roads) is given an overwhelming presumption of consent in planning policy.

To ensure grid investments are made in the right places, a spatial plan for grid infrastructure should be created at the earliest possible date. This plan would direct grid investments to where new energy generations are most likely to be built such as clean energy zones.


Setting a new Energy Systems Operator backed target for long-duration energy storage

Long-duration energy storage technologies such as hydrogen, pumped hydro, and flow batteries will play a vital role in replacing foreign gas’s role as a backstop when wind and solar aren’t generating enough. Yet, planning policy and market arrangements are not set up for a future where long-duration energy storage plays a much more vital role.

To drive change and provide investors with certainty, the government should announce a 2035 25GW target for long-duration energy storage. Additionally, the Government should look into longer-term balancing contracts to de-risk investments and create a new National Policy Statement to speed up planning approvals for long-duration energy storage technologies.