Team time trial
Nigel Williams, Construction Director for NorthSeaLink explains how the Norway-UK interconnector project team is preparing for the challenges of a six-year project.
Team time trial
“The scale of this project and the many different physical, organisational and financial challenges involved make it a truly unique and tremendously exciting undertaking”
Nigel Williams, Construction Director for NorthSeaLink.
This will be the longest interconnector in the world with a 720km-long subsea cable under the North Sea with a capacity of 1400MW.
Source: The NorthSeaLink project team.
In an uncertain world, trying to predict what might happen over the next six years – longer than the lifetime of a Parliament – is a challenge for any futurologist.
The interconnector linking the UK and Norway is scheduled to be commissioned in 2021 and a lot can happen in six years; regimes might change, contractors might change their priorities and we may or may not be part of Europe. Whatever happens, it is our responsibility to make sure we maintain a continuous focus until the job is done.
When it’s completed the North Sea Link, a joint venture between National Grid and Norway’s system operator Statnett, will be the longest interconnector in the world with a 720km-long subsea cable under the North Sea with a capacity of 1400MW.
The project will also see the building of two converter stations where the interconnector comes ashore, at Kvilldal in Norway and Blyth in Northumberland in the UK, to link it into the transmission systems of each country.
The scale of this project and the many different physical, organisational and financial challenges involved make it a truly unique and tremendously exciting undertaking, one that will be a wonderful achievement when we’ve completed it.
We will face hostile environments in the North Sea and Norwegian fjords with unpredictable weather and challenging working conditions. And it’s not only nature that presents a challenge; the North Sea is a busy place with shipping lanes, fishing grounds, oil and gas platforms and pipelines all having to be taken into account.
Our cable needs to be protected from the elements and all these human activities. It will be buried beneath the seabed at various depths which will ensure its reliability over the 40 years of its lifetime.
The main focus of the team at the moment are the civil works at Kvilldal to build the converter station there and to facilitate the cable-lay activity. The mountainous terrain and the fjords make this completely different to any project National Grid has been involved in before.
In order to get the cable from the seabed to the converter station we have to bore microtunnels to the bottom of the fjord from a 2.5km tunnel which will be constructed using drill and blast techniques through solid granite. The cable then has to be laid through a 240m-deep lake 90m above sea level. The converter site is surrounded by steep mountains so we also have to carry out avalanche prevention work to protect the site.
A secure foundation
With so many variables outside of our control, we are keen to create as much certainty wherever we can and that starts with the philosophy of a core project team made up of equal numbers of people from National Grid and Statnett.
There is no duplication of roles in each country so responsibilities are clear. We’ve created a framework and we’ve embedded and documented all our processes so we know how we will work together in all areas, such as managing contractors, managing risk, safety and quality assurance.
We’ve put a lot of effort into team building and taken into account cultural differences. One interesting difference is that our Statnett colleagues put great emphasis on work/life balance. There’s a different rhythm to the working day with Norwegian colleagues often having lunch at 11 am and also many Norwegians take their main holiday in July, returning just when the UK are planning to take their summer break.
The project is costing €2bn, around €1.5bn of which will be spent on contractors. It’s a huge amount of money and requires a very tight control on costs.
There are two financial variables which could potentially expose the project to significant commercial risks; the first is currency fluctuations as the three main contractors involved require paying in three different currencies. To eliminate exposure to changes in exchange rates we have made what is called a financial hedge, which affectively fixes exchange rates for the duration of the project.
The second risk is the cost of the copper for the cable length rising due to demand. Again we have hedged the copper price, effectively fixing it to remove cost volatility over the lifetime of the project.
Good news for consumers
Whatever else is uncertain, the benefits of the interconnector to UK and Norwegian consumers are undeniable.
The UK is facing an energy crunch so any additional sources of capacity that increase security of supply are always welcome. The interconnector will allow 1400MW of power to flow either way. That is enough energy to power all the homes in three cities the size of Coventry.
The extra capacity available in the UK should mean lower wholesale electricity prices and downward pressure on the prices consumers pay, helping to reduce consumer bills.
NorthSeaLink will also help increase opportunities for shared use of renewable energy, a mix of generation including wind power from the UK and hydropower from Norway, helping to meet climate change targets and contribute to a sustainable energy future.
Civil work is continuing at the cable landing point at Kvilldal and works starts on the equivalent site at Blyth in the UK towards the end of 2016. The detailed design of the cable is being finalised and next year the project will move into a testing phase prior to equipment manufacturing. This will then lead into the marine phase and offshore installation phase between 2018 and 2021.