The key to competitive renewable connections

by Hannah van Rooyen

The key to competitive renewable connections

When it comes to connecting new renewables facilities to the National Grid, enlisting an ICP can be an economic, efficient and standardised option. Our commercial director Dave Ogden was recently featured in Energy Management, exploring the benefits that site developers can gain from enlisting a turnkey service provider – if you missed the article, you can read it in full below…

The rising demand for renewables has been growing steadily over the past few decades, and the trend has significantly affected the entire supply chain – from network operators through to consumers. With renewables now accounting for a third of energy generation in the UK – as well as the cost of wind and solar projects falling and battery storage technology advancing – further sustainable power generation investments of around £20 billion are expected between now and 2030.

And as more new wind, solar PV, biomass and hydropower projects enter the pipeline throughout the UK, an increasing number of developers are opting to enlist Independent Connection Providers (ICPs) to get these sites up, running and supplying vital energy to local networks.

So, why are these turnkey service providers seeing such demand amongst renewables firms?

Market competition

Offering a viable alternative to Distribution Network Operations (DNOs) and Independent Distribution Network Operators (IDNOs), ICPs can act on behalf of the developer to connect new sites to the National Grid.

Introduced as a way of increasing competition within the new connections market, ICP status is granted through the National Electricity Registration Scheme (NERS) and audited by the Lloyd’s Register and Ofgem – providing assurance that all quality, environmental and safety specifications are met by the contractor.

Careful management

As with any large-scale assignment, rigorous project management is required to ensure that the comprehensive scheme of electrical engineering works stays on track and to budget. The design to energisation process for connecting a new wind or solar site to the grid can take anything from 14 weeks for 11kV, to 6 months for 33kV and 12 months for 66/132kV. So scheduling tools and proactive planning are essential to keep everything running smoothly.

There are a number of key milestones within the connection process – most significantly the energisation date. As outage conditions are required – so that the site can be safely linked into the local distribution network – this is often an immoveable deadline, which must therefore be scheduled with the DNO well in advance, in order to minimise disruption. Working backwards from this target ‘go live’ date enables timescales for each distinct phase to be determined.

For instance, Smith Brothers uses the SimPRO management tool, which allows everyone working on the assignment to keep track of its progress in real time. The software additionally enables finances to be monitored stage by stage, whilst sequencing checkpoints enable installation, construction and costs to be routinely tracked – boosting organisational efficiencies and keeping unplanned spending to a minimum.

In-house expertise

Taking care of everything from design and procurement of components, to on-site civils and electrical engineering, commissioning and testing, any reliable turnkey contractor must have a vast amount of expertise within its team. Alongside proficient management skills and commitment to high safety standards, exceptional technical knowledge is essential.

For starters, an ICP will have an excellent background knowledge of networks and distribution transmission, switchgear and protection, construction and planning requirements. Plus, with ever-evolving technology, equipment and regulations to keep up with, investment into continual workforce training as well as ongoing research and development is similarly crucial.

Communication and collaboration

A further advantage of having an ICP overseeing the whole connection procedure is that communication flows effectively, enabling the handover from one stage to another to be executed smoothly and efficiently. At specific phases in the assignment, there will be involvement from different in-house teams – including design, procurement management, project management, quantity surveying, programme management, site management and on-site personnel. Having strong communication and teamwork as standard is therefore important.

Collaboration with third parties is also key, and having all these roles under one umbrella is a huge advantage when it comes to ensuring everyone is on the same page and working towards a unified goal, budget and timescales. Alongside the client, ICPs are also required to work closely with the DNO and any external consultants. Having one contractor taking care of all engineering aspects therefore makes this process far more transparent and easier to manage.

Bespoke commissioning

Indeed, working closely with the developer is a prerequisite for an ICP and a key selling point when it comes to appointing a connection provider. As well as often being a faster, more flexible and cost-effective option, many renewables firms are choosing such turnkey services for the increased freedom and greater opportunity for design input they offer.

No two connection projects are the same, and bespoke components frequently need to be sourced in order to fulfil client requirements – particularly on large-scale, complex assignments. The delivery of one-of-a-kind turnkey electrical solutions demands a vast amount of foresight and preparation, meaning the supply and procurement phase of a project must often begin months in advance of on-site construction work.

A good ICP will factor such proactive planning in from the outset, and it’s this ‘bigger picture’ perspective that developers are increasingly seeking from connection providers.

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