Manage meters and grid links to avoid renewables project delays

Delays during grid connection and the installation of electricity meters is hampering the completion of many renewable energy projects and more must be done to avoid potential problems from the outset, says one expert.

The process typically takes just a few weeks for relatively straightforward projects, but some recent cases have seen people waiting six to 10 months for metering and grid connection to be finally completed, says Strutt & Parker partner and senior engineer Kieran Crowe.

Complications and delays are more likely on small and medium-scale projects where different companies are used for electricity supply and export, he says. “Generally the more parties involved, the more likely it is that time increases exponentially.

“The biggest challenges tend to be on the smaller projects where people are connecting to the grid through their existing infrastructure. For large-scale projects financed by developers on a rental agreement, everything’s handled by the developer, so there’s no need for the farmer or landowner to worry.”

No electricity can be sold and no Feed-in Tariffs (Fits) income can be received until metering and grid connection is complete, so it is vital to avoid unnecessary delays, he warns.

Start early

The need to upgrade electricity infrastructure, such as a new transformer or cabling, often presents the biggest time challenge, Mr Crowe says.

“Renewable energy contractors are usually responsible for installing the generation system and registering it for Fits, but they don’t get involved in upgrading the infrastructure or metering.”

Tips to avoid delays

  • Contact DNOs at the outset
  • Understand their processes and be clear on timescales
  • Minimise the number of different parties involved
  • Use milestones: be clear on who does what by when
  • Correspondence with energy companies usually best done by billpayer

He advises anyone planning an energy project to speak to their Distribution Network Operator (DNO) at the earliest opportunity to check whether the local network and infrastructure is sufficient. If an upgrade is required the DNO will provide a quote for how much work will cost.

“If you want to proceed then it’s worth paying the DNO as soon as you can to get the process under way and agree a timescale for how long work will take. DNOs require payment in full upfront.

“Don’t wait until installation of your project begins before contacting them, as it may take several months for grid upgrade work to be carried out, especially in the winter when companies tend to spend more time maintaining and repairing existing infrastructure. Typically grid upgrade work takes three to six months from initial contact, depending on what’s involved and time of year.”

Careful planning is also required to ensure the DNO and meter installer are both present when projects are connected to the grid. “It’s a fairly standard process now, but needs you to be organised to ensure it happens on time. A DNO will not connect a project if there’s no meter installed.”

Where electricity supply has been upgraded, he also advises people to ensure meters are able to cope with the new supply.

Metering complications

The biggest problems and delays with metering arise where different energy companies are used for incoming supply and for electricity export. In such cases, each will be metered separately and there can be extra administrative issues, especially as both companies are likely to want to be the chosen Fits provider, Mr Crowe says.

“If you are using different companies for electricity supply and export, make sure everyone is clear what they are responsible for and who the Fits provider will be, otherwise you can end up going around in circles.”

While large-scale electricity generators can shop around for the prices for exported electricity, Mr Crowe says smaller energy installations of sub-50kW, cannot attract better export prices beyond the statutory minimum, so in such cases it may be easier and save time by using the same company for supply and export.

Don’t get caught out

Further metering complications can also arise on small to medium-sized projects (typically over 50kW) where electricity supply exceeds 100kVA. In such cases, Half-hourly metering is required and it may mean a new contract and pricing structure, Mr Crowe says.

“It’s usually just another department within the same company, but it can slow the process down and can sometimes significantly increase how much you pay.”

Initial meter installation typically costs anywhere from £200-1,000, and Mr Crowe says it is worth budgeting about £500/year for ongoing export metering costs.

“If you’re a high energy user on a relatively small system, the value of exported electricity might not actually cover that cost. In such cases you should question whether it’s worth having an export meter.”

One of the easiest ways to speed up any dealings with energy companies is to ensure the named billpayer undertakes any correspondence, he says.