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Interconnector could bring volcano power to UK

Tue 10 Nov 2015 by David Foxwell

Interconnector could bring volcano power to UK

There are not many areas where growth opportunities are presenting themselves to companies that own and operate offshore vessels and equipment, but the market for interconnectors looks increasingly promising. Interconnectors – essentially inter-country electricity cables – aren’t likely to create much work for supply vessels and anchor handlers, but for other parts of the offshore vessel industry the rewards could be significant.

Only this week, DeepOcean 1 UK Ltd was awarded a contract for the provision of all the marine works for the Nemo Link interconnector project. The contract was awarded by J-Power Systems Corporation, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd, which plans to build an interconnector will deliver a 1,000MW electricity link between the UK and Belgium. The link will increase energy security for both countries and support integration of renewable energy. That, in a nutshell, is what interconnectors are all about – sharing electricity. This particular project has been designated as one of the European Commission’s ‘Projects of Common Interest’ as it will help create an integrated European energy market. The Nemo Link will consist of subsea and underground cables connected to a converter station and an electricity substation in each country, which will allow electricity to flow in either direction between the two countries.

A number of interconnectors are being proposed, as is a European ‘Super Grid’ that would transmit energy generated from renewable sources between countries. Support for the concept has been growing, and crucially for all such projects, it has political support.

Back in July, Prysmian secured a contract worth around €550 million for a high voltage direct current (HVDC) submarine interconnector between Norway and the UK. With a total length of about 740km the NSN Link will be the longest HVDC subsea cable interconnection ever installed. This particular interconnector is being implemented by Statnett SF and National Grid NSN Link Ltd, a project specific subsidiary of National Grid plc. It will be the first power cable system to connect the two nations. The same month, Reach Subsea confirmed that its partner for survey operations, MMT in Sweden, had been awarded a contract for survey and mapping along the route of what would be an even longer HVDC interconnector, the UK-Iceland Interconnector or ‘IceLink’ as it is known, which is being promoted by Atlantic Superconnection Corporation (ASC). MMT will provide bathymetric and geophysical mapping along the entire route corridor, between Iceland and the UK.

The IceLink concept, which has geothermal and hydropower power at its heart, has been around for a while, but UK Prime Minister David Cameron and his Icelandic counterpart, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, are said to be revisiting the concept. Reports suggest they are to set up a UK-Iceland Task Force to assess the possible installation of the interconnector and the start of energy trading between the two countries. At 1,200km (746 miles), it would the longest subsea power interconnector anywhere. The aim is to provide a sustainable, long-term renewable energy supply and increase the UK’s energy security.

When I said the proposal had been around for a while I wasn’t exaggerating: the first proposal to connect Iceland’s electricity grid with Scotland’s, via a submarine cable was first introduced over 60 years ago. The feasibility of such a project has been regularly assessed over the last 30 years and the result of this research showed that such a project would be technically possible but would not be a profitable endeavour, until now. New research conducted by Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s state power company, shed new light on the potential of such a project, and determined that it could in fact be economically viable. The main rationale behind this shift was higher electricity prices in Europe and an increased demand for renewable energy sources, with no or low emission of greenhouse gases. Another point is that the technology required has moved on: HVDC is a tried and tested technology. It is used in the world’s longest and most powerful HVDC installation, the Xiangjiaba- Shanghai power link in China, which delivers 6.4GW of electricity over a distance of over 2,000km and the world’s longest underwater cable, the 580km NorNed interconnector. At 1,000km, the IceLink would become the longest undersea HVDC cable in the world.

National Grid Interconnector Holdings Limited in the UK, together with Landsvirkjun, has been studying the interconnector for a while. The project could commence around 2020, it is suggested. ASC’s plan for the interconnector, which would bring 1.2GW of sustainable power to the UK, is backed by veteran city financier Edi Truell. The company says the IceLink could provide solid ‘baseload’ power and would be the foundation for intermittent solar and wind power, quickly ramping up and down in response to fluctuations in their supply. 

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