WLB CEO Provides Energy Update at Growth Summit

Andrew Dakers addresses West London's energy supply at Capital West London Growth Summit...

On Tuesday 20 June, West London business leaders and public sector representatives descended upon the The Drum at Wembley to participate in the Capital West London Growth Summit. The summit focussed on how West London can continue to grow while ensuring it delivers energy sources, sustainable transport, biodiversity, green skills and housing fit for the future.

As part of the summit programme, West London Business CEO Andrew Dakers delivered the closing keynote for the day – providing an update on West London’s energy supply.

Full transcript below, complimented by the accompanying slide deck…

For the next eight minutes I want to talk to you about one of the most challenging issues facing us in West London – Energy.

As hit the headlines last summer, the explosive growth of data centres in our area has left us without any spare grid capacity in the boroughs of Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow. One fully operational data centre can soak up the power of a small town!

Now data centres are a critical life blood of our modern economy – every Teams or Zoom call we make is underpinned by the digital infrastructure they provide – so they are not something we can do without. And West London is an optimal location for them: close to London; close to fibre connections that connect us with the US; and close to energy supply.

The problem is, that data centres’ growth through the pandemic wasn’t predicted so it wasn’t planned for, and the spare network capacity it soaked up means it is now impossible to bring forward much-needed large scale developments in parts of West London.

[Slide 1]

To bring in more capacity from the National Grid we need to upgrade these places – Grid Supply Points. But we’re told that could take until 2037. You didn’t mis-hear me. 2037. 14 years away.

So, should you be drowning your sorrows at the drinks reception shortly or is there some good news I can send you home with?

[Slide 2]

Well first of all, I must emphasise that four of our boroughs – those on UKPN’s local network – have grid capacity. They are: Barnet, Brent, Hammersmith & Fulham and Harrow. It’s the three on SSEN’s network that have the problem: Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow.

Secondly, stakeholders at all levels have been working for 2 years to address this local energy crunch.
So, how’s that going?

[Slide 3]

Well, a Local Area Energy Plan has been commissioned from Arup. This spans all 7 West London Alliance boroughs plus Richmond and Wandsworth. The first phase, which will soon be published, is the deepest dive planning exercise undertaken in decades and is set to produce a more robust forecast for future energy demand taking into account the vast electrification that underpins so much of the transition to net zero. The plan is exploring the use of solar and smart grids, and flexibility technologies such as energy storage and smart electric vehicle charging to potentially reduce electrical demand.

The plan will be incorporated into future electrical modelling scenarios across our region, which will inform areas for future investment. West London Business will be scrutinising the detailed investment plans closely.

And nationally, because problems of grid capacity are emerging up and down the UK, the government has appointed a UK Energy Commissioner, Nick Winser. Nick will publish a report by the end of June with his initial view on how the delivery of grid infrastructure can be accelerated. I think everyone agrees 14 year timescales are unacceptable.

But in the meantime the search is on for ‘quick wins’ that can mitigate the immediate capacity crisis.

[Slide 4]

The Greater London Authority has been convening stakeholders over the past year and publishing detailed six-monthly briefings. The dialogue the GLA has facilitated means that some smaller residential development schemes in West London (up to 1 megavolt ampere, or MVA, in certain areas) have now been unlocked.

On the slide behind me the areas in Green can access these 1MVA solutions, which is a great result compared to this time last year.

[Slide 5]

How much is one MVA? Well it’s enough to power 100-150 homes. Data centres consume between 25-57 MVAs. A 40 MVA data centre is consuming the equivalent to 10,000 homes.

[Slide 6]

For development sites that can’t access the 1MVA solutions the GLA have identified two ‘collaborative connection’ locations – marked A and B on the slide behind me. Basically ‘A’ is North Acton and ‘B’ is East Brentford and Southwest Acton.

The idea is that development schemes on hold in these areas will be able to install “stretch” cables that run excess power out of the UKPN network – which has spare capacity – into these areas served by SSEN. This is an approach West London Business is strongly encouraging. However whilst this is a “fix” that has the potential to unlock some sites, for others we recognise it will be prohibitively expensive.

At a national level an industry taskforce, the Energy Networks Association, are using the West London constraints as a case to improve regulation. They’ve convened three working groups focused on proposals for regulatory change, triggered by the West London energy crunch.

[Slide 7]

The slide behind me captures all the reforms that are now being mobilised to bring forward solutions faster. I’ve talked about the 1MVA solution.

National Grid, the electricity companies and the regulator, Ofgem, have recognised that another ‘quick win’ is to change the approach to ‘queue management’ and improve the management of network constraints.

Queue management means, in National Grid’s words, that: “If energy generators are not progressing their project, they will have to either move backwards in the queue or leave, making space for other projects ready to progress and connect. These reforms will mean that projects will be able to connect up to ten years earlier”.

In March National Grid published a five point plan to manage constraints on the system. This includes an “amnesty” on customers’ unused capacity, something SSEN are likely to undertake soon too.

And then we see evidence for hope in the public and private sector – action that is already underway locally.

The Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation have two significant initiatives in their bit of our geography:

[Slide 8]

First they are providing free specialist advice to businesses and landlords in the area interested in installing solar panels on their premises.

This advice, provided by specialist solar consultants, Syzygy, covers among other things the permissions process, funding options and how to navigate the installation market. Installations like the one on screen behind me at Preedy Glass have already benefited from this support.

Second they are seeking to build a significant ‘heat network’, supplying homes and businesses in the area with low carbon heat, recovered from data centres in the area. They’re even looking to see if this could be expanded more widely.

And the private sector is also thinking more creatively. The masterplan for Earls Court envisages capturing heat from the underground which runs through the centre of the site to reduce electricity demand.

So where does this leave us? Making progress, but not fast enough.

At West London Business our board are clear that this is the number one strategic challenge facing our sub region today.

The new homes West London needs, and the transition to net zero, are all reliant on resolving this energy squeeze. A complex mix of system upgrades must now be coordinated and delivered at pace, smashing down barriers to action.

Much of this is emerging from the work of the network operators, the GLA and the Local Area Energy Plan. For our part at West London Business we will publish a paper by the end of July setting out our thinking on solutions in five areas:

  • Upgrading Grid Supply Points faster
  • Significantly expanding solar installations
  • Expanding the number of battery storage facilities
  • Developing more semi ‘off-grid’ residential and commercial schemes; and
  • How we re-use the heat of data centres and the underground network

These are big challenges. But they can be met. And every one of us here today can play a part in meeting them.

So I urge you to join Team West London in making it happen – in meeting the energy challenge – and I look forward to your questions.

In addition to Andrew’s update, read more about the work of the GLA liaising with SSEN, National Grid Electricity Network (NGET) and National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO) regarding the electricity capacity constraints in West London.

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