Good and bad news for UK power links

As the world’s longest sub-sea interconnector goes live, fire damage shuts down the UK/France link for two years.

UK’s National Grid was both celebrating with Scandinavia and fretting with France as two major energy interconnectors suffered very different fates in October.

A world first with Norway

The 1st October saw the opening of the world’s longest subsea interconnector, as the North Sea Link finally came online. The 450-mile, €1.6bn (£1,35bn) cable is set to save an estimated 23m tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030 and provide clean electricity to power 1.4m homes at full capacity.

The cable connects the two countries between Blyth in Northumberland and Kvilldal, near Stavanger, with the project taking six years to complete. The undersea cable laying element of the project began in 2018 and involved more than 5,800 days of sea-based work.

Energy will flow in both directions – wind-generated power from the UK, with Norwegian reservoirs supplying hydrogenerated power in return.  Capacity for the interconnector will start at 700Mw, ramping up to full capacity of 1400Mw over three months.

In celebratory mood, National Grid Ventures President, Cordi O’Hara stated: “This is an exciting day for National Grid and an important step as we look to diversify and decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply. North Sea Link is a truly remarkable feat of engineering. We had to go through mountains, fjords and across the North Sea to make this happen. But as we look forward to COP26, North Sea Link is also a great example of two countries working together to maximise their renewable energy resources for mutual benefit.” 

Fire misfortune

The North Sea Link is the fifth interconnector between the UK and mainland Europe and the timing could not have been more fortunate.  Just one month earlier, National Grid’s IFA connector – the first cross-Channel link originally built in 1961 – was damaged by a significant fire at the UK plant in Sellindge, Kent. 

After a complete evacuation of the site, a second connector - the IFA-2 which was completed earlier in 2021 – was found to be unaffected.  However, National Grid was forced to notify the wholesale electricity market that 1000Mw had been taken out of supply, with a resulting short-term surge in energy prices.

Initial estimates suggested the damage would keep the interconnector off grid until March 2022. However, further inspection and initial work on the damage site led National Grid to announce that “extensive work” was required to bring the cable back online safely. The revised dates should see 500Mw of capacity available from October 2022, with full capacity being restored 12 months later.