West London homebuilding on pause as electricity grid hits capacity
Image credit: Pylon. Photograph: Tom Plesnik | Dreamstime.com
Developers in West London have been told that there is not enough capacity in the electricity grid to support the construction of new homes for at least five years.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said he was “very concerned” and had written to the government weeks ago requesting a meeting to discuss the issue. The government declined to meet with him.
Khan said that electricity capacity constraints in the London boroughs of Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow were “creating a significant challenge for developers securing timely connections to the electricity network, which could affect the delivery of thousands of much-needed homes”.
The Energy Networks Association (ENA), which represents UK Distribution Network Operators (DNOs), said the increased demand for electricity capacity in the area was largely due to a rapid influx of batteries and data centres. These uses often place huge demands on the electricity supply compared to housing developments.
In a letter to developers, seen by E&T, the mayor wrote: “Electricity distribution companies are telling some of our partners looking to develop homes in West London that electricity connections will not be available for their sites until 2027 to 2030, once National Grid has undertaken upgrades to increase capacity.”
Electricity distribution companies are not permitted by the regulator Ofgem to prioritise types of development – the allocation is currently on a first-come, first-served basis. And while housing developers tend to make capacity requests later in the design process, those delivering data centre projects appear to apply at an early stage. There is therefore a risk that this problem does not materialise for housing projects until plans for these projects are more advanced, according to the mayor’s office.
A government spokesperson for the business and energy department BEIS said it was in regular contact with Ofgem “to ensure electricity network companies have the necessary funding to meet future demand on the grid”.
A spokesperson for the ENA said the constraints faced in West London were “an isolated circumstance caused by a quick and concentrated expansion of demand from a localised growth in data centres, far higher than forecast”.
However, the ENA also said a “long-term approach to investment is needed”.
“We’re in dialogue with Ofgem to make changes to their reactive regime and ensure that where new infrastructure is needed network companies can build it once and build it right,” a spokesperson said.
Electricity demand is set to increase dramatically as the UK strives for net zero carbon emissions. Up to 30 million electric vehicle chargers and 20 million heat pumps could be required by 2050, increasing electricity demand by more than 70 per cent, according to some predictions.
Ofgem has recently announced its draft determinations for the business plans of DNOs, setting out how much they can invest in network reinforcement.
A government spokesperson added: “Ofgem uses the price control framework to ensure that electricity network companies are provided with the necessary funding to deliver the required capacity to meet future demand on the grid, including to support the roll-out of electric vehicles and heat pumps.”
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