Confusion over how best to connect a renewables scheme to the national grid has resulted in countless applications to district network operators (DNO not being taken up.

There is a very low acceptance by customers, including farmers, of connection offers made by the DNO, following applications to connect to the network, said Olivia Powis, senior manager of smarter grids and governance at gas and electricity markets regulator Ofgem.

In one area this is as low as 5.5% of applications being followed through to connection to the network by the applicant, said Ms Powis, speaking at this year’s NFU Conference.

This low uptake rate is partly due to the fact that customers, including farmers, use the application process as a means of accessing information about where to connect and how much it will cost. Part of the problem was due to a lack of support and up-front advice for farmers on behalf of the DNOs, as applicants were often not aware of where the best locations were to connect, or the available capacity on the network before they submitted an application, said Ms Powis.

“DNOs don’t always give you enough information up front,” she said.

It was not always clear what capacity was available on the network and often farmers were putting in applications just so they could find out more information, she said.

“DNOs have obligations according to their licence to allow people to connect to the grid. You shouldn’t be affected by what DNO operates in your area.”

Jonathan Selwyn, managing director of energy financer and installer Lark Energy, said the differences in approach across DNOs made it difficult for farmers to know what to expect.

“The inconsistencies frustrate farmers. Some are very helpful, but others not so,” he said.

A source of contention between farmers and DNOs was the up-front cost to farmers for connecting to the network.

DNOs stipulate how much it will cost to connect to the network for each application received. This will include the full cost of sole-use connection infrastructure, plus a share of network reinforcement costs. In areas where there is limited capacity, the network may need to be reinforced to accommodate a customer’s (farmer’s) requirement.The reason for this was that it would be too costly to upgrade the entire network and many areas would not need it, said Ms Powis. However, in some cases, farmers may recover a proportion of the costs if within five years someone else starts using the additional capacity they originally paid for.

One option, which is proving successful for farmers in Germany, is using batteries to store excess power. This power can then be put into the grid when supply is low. Ms Powis advised farmers to talk to their DNOs about how they could do this.

However, costing between £10,000 and £15,000 each, the batteries currently available are likely to be too expensive for many farmers, warned Mr Selwyn.

DNOs recently published work plans for how they will improve relationships with customers wanting to connect to the network. “We encourage customers to let us know if they’re not doing what they should be, because we can put pressure on,” said Ms Powis.

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