As part of plans to achieve its 20% renewable energy target by 2020, European leaders signed a memorandum of understanding back in 2011 to encourage offshore wind development and join all the different types of renewable energy sourced across the EU. The main part of the memorandum is the construction of a giant supergrid which will connect energy grids from all corners of the continent.
The North Sea Grid Initiative includes Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom. Some interconnectors already exist between certain countries, but the majority rely on their own power generation. Installing a vast network will reduce energy prices, cut waste, secure energy supply, increase efficiency, and boost economies.
Justin Wilkes of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) explained that “the benefits of an offshore supergrid are not simply to allow offshore wind farms to connect; if you have additional capacity, which you will within these lines, it will allow power trading between countries and that improves EU competitiveness.”
In order to take full advantage of the supergrid when it is up and running, countries have been pressuring one another to increase their renewable energy production. The UK has been urging Ireland to develop wind farms in order to take advantage of the vast potential.
Charles Hendry, the UK energy minister, said that “the west coast of Ireland has some of the fiercest winds in Europe. They whip in off the Atlantic which makes it an ideal location for wind farms. However, the Irish market for electricity is less than a tenth of that of Britain. That means that companies cannot afford to build wind farms in Ireland because there is no market for their power. We want to put that right.”
The UK already has two interconnectors, one to France, and the other with the Netherlands; nine more lines are in the process of being laid, or approved.
The England-France cable was established in 1986 and has exceeded 93% of its 2,000 MW capacity every year, providing about 5% of the UK’s energy consumption.
The UK-Netherlands interconnector was completed in 2011 and was the first line to be laid in over 25 years, with a capacity of 1,000 MW.
The UK has also been speaking to Iceland about the possibility of laying the longest transmission cable in the world to connect Iceland’s vast geothermal potential to the rest of Europe.
Building interconnectors is expensive, the UK-Netherlands project cost £500 million (US $807.9 million), however, as Greenpeace’s Doug Parr told the Guardian, “interconnectors are the cheapest way of backing up wind, because you avoid the greater capital cost of building power stations.”