Posted: 11 May 2015
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An interconnected future for Europe?

The role of interconnectors in improving security of electricity supply is becoming increasingly important across Europe. Britain’s interconnector capacity is set to double in the next decade as a number of significant projects come to fruition, while the European Commission is seeking a more ‘joined up’ approach that links transmission networks beyond borders. National Grid is uniquely qualified to help overcome the huge engineering challenges that lie ahead, as Alan Foster, Director of European Business Development, explains.

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An interconnected future for Europe?

An interconnected future for Europe?

BritNed is the operator of the high voltage direct current Interconnector between the Isle of Grain in Kent and Maasvlakte in the Netherlands.

"Interconnect- ors offer a potentially important mechanism to manage supplies more effectively beyond national borders."

Alan Foster, Director of European Business Development.

Insight:

The European Commission wants countries to achieve 10% of installed capacity available through interconnection by 2020 – a figure rising to 15% by 2030.

Source: National Grid.

In recent weeks National Grid and our partners have taken final investment decisions that give the green light to two ambitious interconnector projects. Once operational the NSN interconnector, linking the GB electricity network to Norway, and the Nemo Link connecting our grid to Belgium, will increase Britain’s ability to import and export power as required.

These projects are two examples of the growing investment in interconnectors Europe-wide as governments wrestle with how to manage the increasing proportion of generation coming from renewable energy and how to strengthen security of supply.

The European Commission wants countries to achieve 10% of installed capacity available through interconnection by 2020 – a figure rising to 15% by 2030. To put that into context, here in the UK we currently stand at about 5% of installed capacity or roughly 4GW of generation, so there’s a long way to go.

Engineering the future

NSN and Nemo Link are really exciting projects to be involved with from a personal standpoint and also for National Grid as a whole and we face some big engineering challenges.

The NSN project for example will see the construction of the world’s longest subsea interconnector, a 1.4GW link stretching some 730km under the North Sea.

The project is a 50/50 joint venture with Statnett, Norway’s national electricity system operator, and has been in development for more than ten years. With a final investment decision now made by both companies, the project is ready to move into the construction phase and is expected to be operational in 2021.

The scale and complexity of the NSN link means that it will take around six years for construction and commissioning to be completed. However, once that happens there will be some important benefits to both countries, with increased sharing of renewable energy and more efficient trading of electricity. Britain, for example, will be able to tap into excess hydroelectric power generated in Norway that can be used when appropriate to improve our own supply position.

Similarly, the Nemo Link that we’re developing with Belgium’s Elia will give both countries improved reliability and access to electricity, plus more sustainable generation via a 140km subsea connection between Richborough in Kent and Zeebrugge.

In summary:

The UK currently has four operational interconnectors. They are:

Interconnexion France-Angleterre (IFA): a 2GW high voltage direct current interconnector running between Folkestone and Calais. The largest of our existing interconnectors, it has been operational for more than 25 years.

BritNed: a 1GW, 260km interconnector running from the Isle of Grain in Kent to Maasvlakte near Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Moyle: a 0.5GW link between the GB and Northern Ireland transmission systems that began operation in 2001. It runs between Auchencrosh in South Ayrshire and Ballycronan More in County Antrim, and is operated by Mutual Energy.

East-West: a 0.5GW interconnector that entered service in 2012 connecting the British and Irish electricity markets. It runs between Deeside in North Wales and Woodland, County Meath in the Republic of Ireland.

Panel box:

Future interconnector projects in the pipeline:

Name Capacity Expected operational date More information
1, Nemo Link 1GW 2019 Nemo Link
2, NSN 1.4GW 2021 NSN interconnector
3, IFA2 1GW 2020 IFA2 interconnector
4, Viking Link 1GW-1.4GW 2020+ Viking Link

What is an interconnector?

An interconnector is quite simply a connection between the electricity transmission systems of two different countries allowing electricity to flow in and out. In some cases the link is via subsea cables, in others it can be through overhead lines.

Where next for interconnectors?

In addition to the NSN and Nemo Link projects National Grid and our equal share partners are also bringing forward two other interconnectors.

It’s important to state that all of these projects sit outside our UK-regulated business; they are led by our Business Development function, are 50/50 ventures with partners in each country, and are commercial enterprises under the banner of National Grid Interconnector Holdings Ltd. This means we’re subject to the same terms and scrutiny as any other potential developer competing in an open marketplace.

Together with our partner in Denmark, Energinet, we are in the feasibility stage of a project called the Viking Link that would involve the construction of a 600-700km subsea cable to carry a high voltage direct current of between 1GW and 1.4GW. The interconnector is targeting to reach first power by the end of 2020 and the exact route is still to be determined.

Finally, there is a second connection planned between the UK and France in the shape of the IFA2 interconnector that will link Hampshire with Normandy. Altogether, the onshore and offshore cable route will be about 240km long.

All four projects have been assessed favourably by Ofgem as being in the interests of UK consumers. Looking slightly further ahead, National Grid is also examining a potential interconnector link between the UK and Iceland, although this is at a much earlier stage of development.

The results and what they means for consumers

So, why is interconnection important? The combination of the four new projects will add about another 4GW to the UK’s installed interconnector capacity, moving us close to the 10% target. There are a further three non-National Grid interconnector projects that could raise the figure to around 11% if they are also taken forward.

Beyond the capacity figures there is also a potentially important benefit to UK consumers. New analysis shows that Britain’s energy consumers could benefit to the tune of £1 billion by 2020 if we double interconnector capacity by 2020. That’s the equivalent of £13 per household annually by 2020.

Now, of course, that does rely on savings being passed on by industry , but the fact remains that investing in more interconnector capacity gives the UK greater flexibility to import electricity when it is economically sensible to do so.

So, what’s the overall message on interconnectors? Firstly, they play an important role in giving us secure supplies of energy and this influence is increasing. Secondly, greater use of interconnectors can certainly make a key contribution as we all strive to ensure that energy is more affordable and sustainable now and in the future.

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