Connecting the UK and Europe

10th March 2016

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Mwale Mutale

What should the UK be doing about energy interconnectors?

One thing parliament should be debating but isn’t much is what the UK should do about energy interconnectors – a cable or gas pipe under the sea connecting it to grids in other European countries.

There are more gas than electricity interconnectors. It is one reason why, if shale gas ever produces in any quantity, it won’t make any difference to the overall price to UK consumers. Gas is traded across a relatively homogenous European market, and any shale gas produced would simply go into that market, largely through interconnectors, if not used in the UK itself.

Not so for electricity where there is a dearth of serious interconnector capacity. The UK lags behind most of Europe here: currently about 5% of electricity demand can be sourced from interconnectors. The EU wants 10% of member states’ electricity demand to be met this way by 2020, rising to 15% by 2030. Some states, including Germany, with about 17% of demand interconnected, have already achieved the 2030 target.

But the UK is stirring, with nine projects at various stages of development. More lines to France and Ireland, one to Belgium, and lines to Norway and Iceland have all got beyond the drawing board. However, only three have a realistic chance of being in place by 2020.

But perhaps that isn’t the real point. It is undoubtedly the case that, with much of its ageing fleet of power stations due to close over the next few years, the UK needs far more electricity interconnectors than it has. There is also the consideration of what part an interconnector array might play in the UK’s future low-carbon electricity scenarios: at present, interconnected electricity does not ‘count’ for renewable or other targets, partly because it comes from such a mixed bag of sources. But we can be fairly sure that power coming from Norway would be largely low carbon, since it would be mainly from hydro power, and certainly almost all of that from Iceland would be geothermal.

Interconnectors might also play a part in the EU referendum debate. A recent research note from the House of Commons Library on the possible effect of Brexit on a range of areas highlighted interconnection as one area where leaving might result in ‘poorer security of supply through decreased interconnectivity to Europe’.


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