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Lack of capacity ‘holds back green energy’

Renewable energy production can help address costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Farmers and energy experts say a lack of capacity on the power grid is preventing some renewable energy projects from seeing the light of day.

NFU Cymru said more Welsh farmers and landowners want to produce clean energy to help reach net zero targets, which means not increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The president of the agricultural union spoke of “huge untapped potential in Wales”.

An energy expert called the problem “pretty significant.”

Power regulator Ofgem and Western Power Distribution, which supplies electricity to much of Wales and England, have been contacted for comment.

For many in the agriculture industry, coping with spiraling costs is an ongoing challenge, but producing renewable energy provides an opportunity, not only to tackle those costs, but also to ensure that agriculture reduces its carbon emissions.

Garry Williams, a sheep and beef farmer on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, said: “We have 3.9kw of solar panels on site at the moment. We are looking at expanding renewable energy production as a form of diversification.

Garry Williams and his dog

“The problem is that there is no capacity in the national grid to carry the electricity produced along the line,” says Garry Williams.

“But we have a major problem, and the problem is that there is no capacity in the National Grid to carry the electricity produced.”

According to NFU Cymru chairman Aled Jones, the lack of capacity on the power grid is a major barrier for farmers wanting to produce clean energy.

He said: “Many members who have been trying to get into diversification and renewable energy projects have found themselves unable to connect to the grid because availability on the grid was insufficient.

‘A real, real problem’

“Another problem was getting a three-phase connection. The cost in some of these rural areas has been prohibitive for some of these projects.

“It’s a real, real problem and we’ve highlighted it multiple times before and the government should have known about it by now.”

He continued: “We are facing a climate emergency, and farmers want to get involved and diversify into other projects.

“We at NFU Cymru have set ourselves the ambition to be net zero by 2040, and we’ve said there are ways to do it, but other people have to work with us.

“If the government and availability of grid capacity isn’t there, it also kickstarts innovation and investment. This is serious, there is huge untapped potential in Wales with renewable projects that want to go ahead but can’t.”

There is concern that a lack of investment in infrastructure could have an impact on larger scale energy projects in Wales.

There are plans to generate electricity through floating wind farms off the coast of south west wales. But the lack of infrastructure means there are questions about how this project would connect to the power grid.

duncan sinclair

“It’s quite significant because it’s such a fundamental change,” says Duncan Sinclair of consultancy Baringa.

“It’s a concern because we have such a good opportunity in terms of offshore wind, that if that opportunity goes elsewhere, in Pembrokeshire we really lose it,” said Samuel Kurtz, Senedd (MS) member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

“It is a concern, because we have such a good opportunity in terms of offshore wind, that if that opportunity goes elsewhere, in Pembrokeshire we will really lose it.

“I fear that people are looking elsewhere to bring the cables to land that would carry the electricity.

‘Classic chicken and egg problem’

“But I think Pembrokeshire lends itself very well to the opportunity at hand, and I really hope that all the stakeholders will come together to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity.”

Duncan Sinclair, who specializes in power grids for consultancy Baringa, said the problems the grid faced were due to a change in the way it works.

“Electric networks have been designed based on the old paradigm.

“It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem in many ways. Generators want to connect to the system, but grid operators won’t take that step unless they can see that enough people need that capacity.

“Then you get into this problem where they’re waiting for more requests, but people are reluctant to have to wait and join a queue to connect to the network.”

He added: “In the past we had large power plants connected to the transmission system, the energy flowed through the transmission system to the distribution network and to the final consumer. That’s how it worked for several years.”

‘Long term plan’

“Now things are fundamentally changing, with many more smaller assets connecting to distribution networks.

“So small-scale renewables, solar power, wind farms and those could be solar panels on the roofs of people’s houses or projects on farmland.”

“The problem is that we are now putting electricity into the grid from the edges, and the problem is if too much electricity is pumped into the distribution grid and not used locally, then it has to flow up the grid.” If there is not enough capacity in the network, then there is a problem because it cannot reach the most distant clients.”

National Grid ESO, which operates the electricity system in Wales, England and Scotland, said it was “working closely with distribution network operators, transmission owners, customers and the Welsh government to support the development of a plan. long-term for electricity networks in Wales, to resolve any existing problems with connections and to support delivery against shared net-zero ambitions.”

A Welsh government spokesman said it recognized the urgent need to increase grid capacity to help Wales reach net zero by 2050 and has repeatedly raised concerns with Ofgem and National Grid ESO.

It said it was working with energy experts “to trigger investment in the grid to meet Wales’s future needs for low-carbon heat and transport”, and hoped National Grid ESO would consider it.

He added: “Investment is needed so that we can better connect new demands for renewable energy and new generation to meet needs across Wales.”

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