UK’s poor grid modernisation is curtailing RE integration, says solar body

UK renewable energy grid integration
The Solar Trade Association says that parts of the UK electricity grid are closed to renewable energy integration because of ageing infrastructure

In the UK, the solar power industry’s trade body has called on the new Conservative government to invest in grid modernisation to enable the integration of renewable energy.

The Solar Trade Association has warned that ageing infrastructure means that parts of the grid are closed to new connections preventing the country working towards its low-carbon goals, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.

The association identified a lack of capacity at the UK’s 14 private sector distribution network operators (DNOs).

The report cites how Western Power Distribution, the DNO for the Midlands, south-west England and Wales, closed the grid six years ago to new large renewable projects in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

While large parts of eastern and south-east England barely have any capacity, according to maps from UK Power Networks.

Under EU targets, the UK must produce 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

However, the Office for National Statistics said in February that to hit the overall 2020 targets, Britain needs to more than double the amount of electricity from renewable sources to 30%, according to the newspaper report.

Commenting on the need for grid modernisation, Leonie Greene, the head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, said the grid had lacked investment for many years because of a lack of action by government and energy regulator Ofgem.

Ms Greene said: “The grid is now sclerotic in places and there are even modest solar roofs that cannot get grid connections. We are trying to get the DNOs to operate on a more active business model but the amount of solar that is projected for 2023 is less than we have today.

“We are missing basic information because we don’t have an assessment of how much actual capacity is left and what is needed to meet the 2020 targets. The new secretary of state has no time to waste to get the grid on track if we want a low-carbon electricity system.”

Grid voltage modernisation

Meanwhile, in an indicator of some activity in the grid modernisation sector, Anvil Semiconductors based in the Midlands is participating in a GBP9.5m government initiative to adapt the UK’s energy infrastructure to cope with changes in generation and distribution.

Under the trial, Anvil Semiconductors is installing power electronic converters into the meter-box of individual properties and a local substation converter for distributing at 400V.

The approach aims to allow the grid to simultaneously deliver different voltages for different requirements such as charging an electric car while providing a constant 240V for a residential building.

The power electronic converters will use low-cost silicon carbide switching devices built using Anvil’s SiC-on –silicon technology.

Trialled on Western Power Distribution’s residential network, the team consists of Western Power Distribution, Anvil Semiconductors, Turbo Power Systems, Aston University, Exception EMS and Schneider Electric for the design and delivery of the project.

The UK Government agency Innovate UK is funding the trial.