This week the worlds longest interconnector has been announced between the UK and Norway. (An interconnector is an international transmission line that connects two countries.) In our book we looked at the problems that switching to renewable electricity on a large scale will bring due to the variability of renewable energy output. You should read our book for full details, but there are a number of solutions all of which have their pros and cons.
One of these solutions is to use an interconnector and send your excess power to your neighbours. Gradually a European interconnector network is taking shape which will allow the sharing of electricity. So for example if its very windy in one part of Europe then the power can be sent somewhere else.
The UK currently has three international ones, one which runs to France built in the 60’s but more recently upgraded to 2GWp capacity, a newer one to the Netherlands with a capacity of about 1GWp and a very new interconnector to Ireland (o.5GWp). There is also an internal one to Northern Ireland (pictured). There are 5 additional ones planned in addition to the Norway interconnector, to France, Ireland and Denmark.
The new 1.4GWp UK/Norway interconnector is being sold as being a two way street, in other words its an opportunity for us to sell our power to the Norwegians. This seems unlikely. Norway gets almost 99% of its power from mature hydro systems. Certainly at the moment the UK imports far more electricity from Holland and France than it exports to them. (The opposite is true for both Irish interconnectors.) The reasons for this have been over the last few years the utilities have been reluctant to use gas due to its high price. Its cheaper to buy electricity from abroad. Now with Coal fired power stations closing there is another reason to import power, capacity is tight. There could be times when power could be flowing away from the UK. Norway has grid connections with other Scandinavian countries and it possible interconnctors could be a way of dealing with excess UK solar electricity in summer selling it to Denmark or Finland. I feel we need a balance in what we sell or import, we do not want to be too dependent on others for our power. On the other hand one of the disadvantages of interconnctors is the power is old off cheap so it does make sense to sell too much power to your neighbours at least until the generating assets have been paid for. This does not apply to Norway with its mature assets.
There is something else going on here though. The government is not keen on onshore wind and I wonder whether this signals at least a partial break with renewables policy.