Queueing is something that appears deeply rooted in our national identity. The average Brit spends 67 hours every year queueing, but who wrote the rules? And what is the best way to form an orderly queue?
The Energy Networks Association has launched a consultation seeking views across the industry on how electricity network companies should manage connection applications and what process should be used when dealing with the often-thorny issue of connection queues.
Michael Rieley, commercial policy manager for SSEN Transmission considers how lessons from the weekly shop to Wimbledon could help network companies transition to a smarter energy system.
First things first.
Supermarkets and shops are generally the first things that spring to mind when you think of a queue. Whether it’s waiting to pay for the weekly shop, or the queueing for hours in the street to get your hands on the latest tech. Queues provide order that is maintained all the way to the checkout with a basic principle ‘first come, first served’.
However, maintaining this order can be a fine balance and having the right rules can make all the difference; imagine two customers in the same store arriving to buy the same TV and there is only one left. Regardless of what time the customers arrive they may be able to ‘skip the queue’ by simply getting to the product first. If there is more than one customer – the absence of clear rules might lead to some chaotic scenes.
Not all queues are perfect either – have you ever had to wait in line at the supermarket only to see that the customer at the front has forgotten their wallet. How long would you be willing to wait to let them get their cash? Could they run to the car? Would you be willing let them run all the way home while you continue to wait?
These are just some of the things that the ENA has had to consider in the development of its queue management and interactivity policy.
What does this mean for networks?
When it comes to electricity network connections, the ‘first come, first served’ principle has also prevailed. It’s easy to see why.
Until relatively recently there hadn’t been as many customers. The capacity of the network was generally enough to connect projects that came along – even if you weren’t first or there wasn’t capacity immediately available you probably wouldn’t have had to wait too long for your connection.
In fact, reducing waiting time has been the real focus for industry. Changes to our electricity transmission and trading arrangements introduced between 1998 and 2002 meant that transmission networks were able to connect customers ahead of certain infrastructure assets. Prior to this, the transmission network was presumably a bit like a shop that only opened its doors if the shelves were fully stocked. These changes recognised that there was a benefit for everyone by keeping the doors open for longer - even if that meant that some customers wouldn’t get everything on their list.
Today, however, with significant growth in renewables, projected growth in EVs, and a significantly changing energy system, network companies now must engage with more customers, who are or will be looking for what is in some parts of the country a very scarce resource.
This means that greater transparency, consistency and more active management of the connection queue in line with customers ability to connect will be necessary as we transition to a smarter energy system and a Net Zero economy.
What is being proposed?
The ENA consultation proposes two policy mechanisms that will ensure that available resource is allocated in a way that is transparent, fair, while enabling network companies to more actively manage connection queues.
interactivity occurs at the application stage of connection offers. It takes time for networks companies to draw together the relevant details of a connection offer and over that time they may receive more connection applications that will make use of the same part of the existing or future network.
The ENA is proposing a ‘good news first’ policy to deal with such instances. This means that affected customers will be told that there is the possibility of connecting to the network, but that it is conditional on the project in front ‘rejecting’ its offer. In the context of our earlier scenario, this is like turning up to buy the last TV in the store and agreeing that you will only take it if the person who arrived before you changes their mind – no need to lace up the running shoes.
Equally, if that person in front does make the purchase, then it might be reasonable to expect the shop to give you the chance to buy the next one available. The ENA is proposing that if the customer in front accepts its connection offer, the network company is able to take that connection into account and provides a revised offer with a new connection date.
The second proposal from the ENA Open networks project deals with queues that can form once offers have been accepted – as customers wait for weeks, months or years for their connection capacity to be made available.
The proposals will allow network companies to measure the progress of customers in the queue by placing milestones in customer contracts. This is not uncommon, most distribution customers will already be familiar with contract milestones, and more recently SSEN has lead a trial of queue management using the same principles for its customers in Orkney.
Milestones, are a bit like the rules for joining the queue. Where signs like this one at Wimbledon let customers know that it only makes sense to wait in line if you have cash. The milestones proposed by the ENA let customers know that if you want to connect to the network, you will need to have things like planning permission, finance and a construction plan for your project.
Of course, getting a grid connection is nothing like waiting for a Wimbledon ticket. Each milestone has a timeframe – recognising that you might not have some of these things when you join the queue but that you expect to pick them up along the way
Where customers fail to complete milestones a ‘tolerance’ mechanism is also proposed. This will allow customers some limited time to deal with the issue at hand without consequence. Where the delay continues beyond this limit, the network company can intervene, putting the delayed customer to the end of the line and allocating that capacity to a customer that is ready.
How do I get involved?
The proposals currently out for consultation represent a significant change for the better in the way that customers and networks will interact, and it has the potential to improve the transparency and efficiency of the connections process.
It will only work of with the support of customers and stakeholders, I would encourage anyone with an interest in network connections to get involved and share your views by the 25 September.
Consultation is available on the ENA website. http://www.energynetworks.org/electricity/futures/open-networks-project/open-networks-project-stakeholder-engagement/public-consultations.html
Alternatively contact, Michael.Rieley@sse.com
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).