…an interconnector! (at least connecting northwards it is). This is something Energy Minister Charles Hendry has got absolutely right, and talked about in DECC Questions today – signing up for a new interconnector with Norway. It was National Grid that actually signed to be precise, on the 22nd of last month, but Hendry has been active in facilitating the signing, not only with Norway but as a real possibility, with Iceland as well, having visited Reykjavik in May.
I’m slightly surprised at how little general media attention has been paid to these moves – other than a very good piece from Damian Carrington in the Guardian in April and some notes in Business Green, not very much.
It deserves a lot more attention both because of what interconnection with Norway and Iceland can do, and of what it says about the possible content of the energy mix for the future.
Both Norway and Iceland can supply the UK with long term, low carbon cheap electricity. And both have the potential – Norway in particular- to store electricity produced by UK renewables ready to be recalled at more convenient times via the interconnection cable.
So these plans could be transformational in providing precisely the architecture needed to keep emissions low and provide good demand side response for a future high wind energy mix.
And… there’s more. They are relatively quick and cheap to build. Even an Iceland connector, with a cable length of 1000km could be laid over a a few years at a cost of about £3 billion – less than half the cost of a new nuclear power station and providing, probably about the same capacity on a sustainable basis.
But it is the influence on wider capacity plans that interconnectors might have that is, I think, the most significant part of the story. If all the mooted interconnectors are built- and there are some schemes in progress to link Ireland to Wales, England to Belgium and proposals for harnessing Channel Island tides through interconnection among others- then the UK would have at its disposal another 9 GW of mostly low carbon, affordable energy: perhaps up to 10% of our current installed capacity, able to work with, rather than potentially against what will be, by the early 2020s a very different-looking makeup of UK installed energy supply. Even if all the electricity coming our way will not be completely low carbon, interconnectors give us an extended chance to think far more carefully about our future installed mix than seems the case right now.
So a policy thought right now for EMR: if we are to introduce capacity payments for new plants, would it not be sensible to allocate at least a portion of them to ensuring that interconnectors do get built to scale and to time? – altogether a better investment for the long-term future than facilitating a ‘rush of gas’ that the presently proposed arrangements seem set to provide.