Commission to explore capability of local electricity grid to support renewables push

Study will explore how to ensure the distribution network supports the development of a net zero electricity system.

Published: 27 Feb 2024

By: Rob Mallows


electricity substation

Ensuring that the network connecting homes and businesses to the electricity supply can cope with the demands of a fully electric-powered economy will be the focus of a new piece of work by the National Infrastructure Commission.

The government has today (27 February) published the terms of reference for the study, which asks the Commission to look at the steps required to ensure the capacity of the local electricity distribution network does not become a barrier to the creation of a net zero electricity system by 2035.

Demand for electricity is expected to increase by 50 per cent by 2035, and double by 2050. An inability of the electricity distribution network to cope with such an increase could delay the decarbonisation of domestic heating and other key sectors of the economy such as transport and heavy manufacturing, and risk interruptions in supplies to homes and businesses.

The Commission will consider what technologies and solutions may be needed to ensure sufficient capacity exists in the system, along with any additional policy and governance steps such as identifying and enabling anticipatory investment at scale. It will explore the role of different parties in connecting new sources of generation and demand to the network, including Distribution Network Operators, the National Energy Systems Operator and Regional Energy Strategic Planners, and consider how the policy, regulatory and planning systems can better support network deployment.

The recommendations provided by the Commission will aim to integrate with the government’s existing plans for the UK’s electricity systems, including the Energy Security Plan and Transmission Acceleration Action Plan.

Commissioner Nick Winser said:

“Every day businesses and households rely on the distribution network to deliver the electricity they expect when they flick a switch. Given the increasing demands being placed on it as we move to a fully electrified economy built on renewable generation, customers will want reassurance the network can continue to provide a dependable supply. Looking afresh at how we manage and maintain the whole system will help us better understand where further investment or new policies may be needed to ensure a resilient and flexible electricity network up to 2050 and beyond.”

The Commission will now begin a programme of engagement with relevant stakeholders and seek relevant evidence and insights through a specific call for evidence, which is published alongside the terms of reference.

The Commission’s second National Infrastructure Assessment in October 2023 called on government to accelerate the deployment of renewable generation and flexible technologies to ensure the security of the electricity supply, as the UK shifts to an increasingly electrically powered economy. The Assessment also identified the need for more investment in transmission and distribution cables to ensure the electricity system could keep pace with demand.

  • The study was first announced by government in the Autumn Statement in November 2023. The terms of reference can be found [here]
  • The Commission is expected to publish the final report of the study in early 2025
  • Electricity is transported around Great Britain via the high voltage transmission network to grid supply points, where it is then distributed at a lower voltage to individual homes and businesses using primary and secondary local distribution networks. It is these latter networks – managed by Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) – which are the focus of this study.
  • There are approximately 840,000 km of distribution lines, accounting for around 97 per cent of the ‘wiring’ of the whole electricity supply grid.

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