UK offshore electricity transmission review offers lessons for Ireland's offshore wind sector
UK offshore electricity transmission review offers lessons for Ireland’s offshore wind sector
The UK electricity regulator, Ofgem, has called for industry feedback on ways to improve coordination in offshore electricity transmission infrastructure. This feedback will inform a wider review of the UK's offshore transmission network, launched in July 2020. These investigations support the objective in the UK's Decarbonisation Action Plan to explore a more coordinated and efficient system of offshore transmission. The timing of this process coincides with the similar consultation initiated by the Irish Government on its grid development policy for offshore wind in Ireland.
Ofgem notes in particular that the UK offshore transmission system has been based on point-to-point links between offshore wind farms and onshore transmission facilities. This model is very much a "decentralised" model, which has largely left the planning and delivery of transmission infrastructure to individual developers. The regulatory scheme in the UK also requires that the offshore transmission infrastructure once built be transferred to a different entity than the windfarm developer/operator.
Ofgem notes that this approach may not provide the best outcomes in future for consumers as generating capacity increases (ie, there may be scope to improve efficiencies and reduce unnecessary duplication of assets). It may also increase pressure on coastal connection points. Accordingly, at this stage of its review, Ofgem is seeking industry comment on:
The barriers to a more coordinated approach to transmission assets to date, including legal, commercial and regulatory impediments; and
Proposals to overcome those barriers.
That feedback will help Ofgem to identify whether a change in current regulatory arrangements could enable greater coordination, or whether wider systemic change may be needed.
The outcomes of Ofgem's review could provide valuable lessons for Ireland's own comprehensive overhaul of the legislative and policy framework for Ireland's maritime area, under the proposed Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) legislation.
In particular, the Irish Government is considering alternative approaches for delivery of offshore transmission infrastructure. It has indicated that the MPDM legislation will provide for two general models, namely a 'decentralised' or 'developer-led' approach, and a 'centralised' or 'plan-led' model. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment consulted on potential grid delivery models for Ireland in June 2020. This consultation outlined four models, ranging from entirely developer-led to entirely plan led. It noted that those models were examples only, and the ultimate approach may include elements of each.
A primarily decentralised approach will likely be used for the first tranche of offshore wind projects delivered under the new legislation (likely to include the so called "Relevant Projects"), with a more centralised approach being implemented over time. However, a successful UK model for "coordinated" offshore transmission infrastructure could provide a blueprint for Ireland to transition more quickly to a similar framework. DCCAE has also explored approaches in other EU states, which already take a largely centralised approach.