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Facts or fiction about IceLink?

The IceLink subsea interconnector is a proposed power cable that would connect the power markets of Iceland and Great Britain (UK). On the website of Icelandic national power company Landsvirkjun, the rational for the IceLink cable is described. In this article we will fact-check this rationale:

Claim no.1:  IceLink lifts the isolation of the Icelandic electricity market and it assists Europe to achieve interconnection capacity targets amounting to 10% of installed capacity, and it opens up new markets for both Icelandic and UK suppliers.

  • Correct: The Icelandic power market is isolated. With IceLink, that would change.
  • Correct: IceLink would be part of Europe’s projects to achieve interconnection capacity targets.
  • Correct: IceLink do open up new markets for Icelandic and UK suppliers.

The EU Commission has set a target of 10% electricity interconnection by 2020. This means that all EU countries should construct electricity cables that allow at least 10% of the electricity produced by their power plants to be transported across its borders to its neighboring countries. However, IceLink will not be ready by 2020. Thus, it seems likely that the IceLink project would rather become a part of EU’s new energy policy and targets for 2030. In fact, this development or process has already started.

lv-hvdc-subsea-power-cables-mapThe EU Commission has already proposed to extend the interconnection target from 19% to 15% by 2030. The targets will be reached through the implementation of Projects of Common Interest. A new special expert group on electricity interconnection targets established by the EU Commission  had its first meeting in Brussels on 17th and 18th October 2016. It is yet to be seen what will become the new interconnection target for each of the EU member states, but so far the UK’s share is only less than 5%. In 2015 domestic installed capacity in GB was 91 GW, while total capacity of interconnectors between UK and other countries was 4 GW.

Regarding IceLink opening up new markets, it should be noted that the general power market in Iceland is very small compared to GB or UK. Thus, for suppliers in the UK the Icelandic power market is probably not very interesting. However, it might be positive for suppliers of wind energy in Scotland to have access to Iceland, as we will now explain:

Claim no.2:  Through bi-directional flows, IceLink could potentially reduce the cost of managing constraints between northern GB and the major consumption centres further south as energy is directed to Iceland at times of excess wind power generation in the north, stored in hydro reservoirs, and returned at times of lower wind output.

  • Correct: IceLink would open up the possibility to store for example Scottish wind power in Iceland’s reservoirs.
  • Correct: During time of low wind in Scotland, Icelandic hydropower stations could be utilized to bring  the wind power back to Scotland.

Claim no.3:  By providing flexible energy in near term spot markets and the balancing mechanism, IceLink can lower the cost of balancing, in particular in a system with a high penetration of intermittent generation.

  • Possibly: There is a possibility that IceLink would lower the cost of balancing electricity supply/demand. However, this of course depends on several factors, such as the British capacity market.

Claim no.4:  IceLink connects currently isolated Iceland´s renewable electricity system with the broader European system and offers a means to decrease Europe´s dependency on imported fossil fuels in a cost efficient way.

  • Correct, but not very relevant: IceLink is expected to offer the UK (and thus the European system) access to approx. 5,000 GWh annually. The current total annual electricity consumption in the UK is close to 335,000 GWh. Access to power generated in Iceland would thus only add a fraction to the current power supplied and consumed in the UK.

However, note that in 2015 the renewable power generation in the UK was close to 83 TW, so an addition of 5 TWh of renewable generation is substantial. This of course means that IceLink would in fact make UK (and Europe) a little bit less dependent on power from for example coal and natural gas (fossil fuels)

Claim no.5: IceLink increases diversity of power supply at both ends and enhances further deployment of renewables through coupling highly flexible hydro generation with that of intermittent wind and solar generation.

  • Correct: Iceland and UK utilize different sources for their power generation. While UK is mainly dependent on natural gas, coal and nuclear energy for its power generation, Iceland utilizes hydro and geothermal for close to all its generation. Moreover, most of the generation in Iceland comes from hydro. IceLink will thus indeed increase diversity of the power supply, and Iceland’s flexible hydro power is perfect to balance supply and demand while solar and wind power fluctuates.

Claim no.6: IceLink delivers reliable and flexible energy into the GB system at times of thin supply margins.

  • Correct: IceLink could indeed deliver reliable and flexible energy into the GB/UK system at times of thin supply margins. To better understand the importance of access to flexible hydropower, based on large reservoirs, we would like to refer to our earlier article; IceLink offers flexibility rather than base load power.

Claim no.7: IceLink allows energy to flow to Iceland at times of low hydro generation potential, e.g. due to unusually low precipitation levels.

  • Correct: Every few years, the Icelandic reservoirs fill up quite late due to low precipitation or cold weather (resulting in low glacial melting). This decreases the efficiency of the Icelandic hydropower stations and adds a risk to the system. With IceLink this risk would become less.

Claim no.8: Iceland generation is 100% renewable. The interconnector would provide an export opportunity for the surplus energy in the renewable hydro system that is not currently harnessed due to economical and operational limitations.

  • Correct: The closed Icelandic electricity system is constructed in the manner of securing stable supply to heavy industries (especially to aluminum smelters, who need stable power supply 24/7 all year around). In years with unusually much precipitation or heavy glacial melting (warm periods), excess amounts of water runs into the reservoirs, resulting in overflow. Turbines could be added to harness this excess, but such development is costly and not economic unless having access to a market where power prices are higher than in Iceland. IceLink would create access to such a market.

Claim no.9: The UK has committed itself to ambitious reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. IceLink contributes with its lower cost of low carbon energy compared to domestic marginal alternatives and its flexibility contributes to reducing the cost of enabling the integration of UK intermittent renewables.

  • Correct: Even though the Icelandic geothermal,- hydro- and wind power sources are fairly limited when having regard to the enormous size of the British power market, it would make economic sense for the UK to buy Icelandic renewable power instead of for example more expensive British offshore wind power. For more on this subject, we refer to our earlier article; UK’s electricity strike prices positive for IceLink. And we can add that even though strike prices for new offshore wind power seems to be coming down quite fast, electricity from Iceland could be substantially cheaper than new offshore wind farms off the British coast.

Claim no.10: IceLink involves the deployment of relatively mature low carbon technologies. As such, it allows GB to reduce reliance on particular domestic technologies, thereby reducing exposure to lower than expected cost reduction trajectories.

  • Correct: Currently, almost all power generation in Iceland comes from mature geothermal- and hydro technology. In the coming years and decades the Icelandic power sector is likely to also start utilizing wind power on land – which is also a mature technology and less problematic than offshore wind power.

The conclusion is that most of the claims set forward by Landsvirkjun, regarding IceLink, are not only correct but also very relevant. However, it is possible that the project could be delayed by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The wish-list of the Icelandic energy industry

Iceland may offer numerous new renewable energy projects where levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is very low. Or as low as 22.50 USD/MWh.

The weighted average cost (LCOE) for all new projects in Iceland needed to meet increased power demand until 2035, could be as low as 26.93 USD/MWh. This can be seen from a new report published by the Icelandic Energy Industry Association (Samorka). However, to realize such a low LCOE the Icelandic energy industry would have to be able to develop several projects that are currently not classified for development/utilization. When only taking into account projects already classified for utilization, the LCOE is substantially higher or 34.41 USD/MWh. Note that those figures are an estimation by contractors working for the Icelandic Energy Industry Association, and are based on cost-information from the Icelandic National Energy Agency (NEA).

LCOE for projects in utilization category is 34 USD/MWh

The Icelandic government has adopted a special Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization, where possible new hydro- and geothermal power projects are classified into three categories. The categories are protection, on-hold, and utilization. Many of the possible new energy projects have not made it into the utilization category.

Iceland-New-Power-Projects-Utilization-Category_Askja-Energy-Partners_August-2016The table at left lists the lowest-cost hydro- and geothermal power projects planned by the Icelandic government to be realized, currently classified in utilization category. Some of these projects have substantial higher LCOE than the lowest-cost projects not categorized for utilization. Note that the list is not absolute; for example the Eldvörp project may be developed before the Gráuhnjúkar project.

As can be seen on the table, the weighted average LCOE for all projects already categorized for utilization, needed to meet increased domestic demand until 2035, is close to 34 USD/MWh. Which probably explains why Icelandic energy companies are now, according to sources within the industry, offering new long-term power contracts where the tariffs are as low as 34-35 USD/MWh (common unofficial starting tariff; the advertised tariff is 43 USD/MWh).

Different classifications may offer LCOE as low as 27 USD/MWh

Being able to offer new power contracts with a starting price close to 34 USD/MWh, may be quite competitive having regard to the international power market. However, Icelandic energy firms are eager to be able to develop projects that have even lower LCOE. Thus, the industry hopes to have several low-cost projects re-classified by the Icelandic parliament (Alþingi).

Iceland-New-Power-Projects-Wish-List_Askja-Energy-Partners_-Twitter-August-2016To reach the lower LCOE of 26.93 USD/MWh, several projects need to be re-classified. Meaning low-cost projects that are now classified as protection or on-hold, would be re-classified as projects in utilization category. This is illustrated on the table at below.

If the energy industry will be able to convince the Icelandic government and parliament to move certain possible projects from the categories of protection and on-hold, to the utilization category, the levelized cost of new generation needed until 2035 may drop from approximately USD 34 USD/MWh to close to only 27 USD/MWh (meaning almost 20% lower cost). So, the projects listed on the table at left can be said to reflect the wish-list of the Icelandic energy industry (the industry hoping to have all these projects listed for utilization).

With IceLink LCOE could be somewhere between 28-37 USD/MWh

The two tables above also illustrate how different selection of projects affect the LCOE when/if the IceLink subsea power cable between Iceland and United Kingdom (UK) will be realized. If power will be exported from Iceland to UK, Icelandic generation naturally needs to increase more than without IceLink (as we have explained earlier here at the Icelandic and Northern Energy Portal). Depending  on which projects will/would be developed with IceLink, the LCOE for new traditional hydro- and geothermal projects could be as low as 28.49 USD/MWh (note that the overall LCOE for all the generation needed for IceLink would be higher, as it is expected that close to 550 MW of wind power would also be developed in Iceland to fulfill the demand of the cable). To reach such a low target for LCOE, 28.49 USD/MWh, the Icelandic energy industry would have to have its wish-list, as shown on the second table, accepted by the Icelandic authorities.

Holmsa-Axlarfoss

Having regard to projects currently categorized for utilization in the Master Plan, the LCOE will be much higher (with IceLink) than the said 28.49 USD/MWh. The LCOE for new traditional hydro- and geothermal stations currently categorized for utilization and needed for IceLink, is expected to be 37.21 USD/MWh (as can be seen on the first table above). Which is close to 30% more than the low-cost options on the wish-list. Thus the Icelandic government and politicians now face difficult and controversial decisions how to balance the economics and environmental issues, when deciding if changes will be made to the Master Plan. It is expected that a new version of the Master Plan may be adopted by the Parliament (Alþingi) even before the end of this year (2016).

Almost 1,000 MW of new large hydro- and geothermal power plants until 2035

If IceLink subsea HVDC power cable will be constructed, it is expected that totally 954 MW of new traditional large hydro- and geothermal plants will be needed in Iceland. These power plants would be constructed during the next two decades.

IceLink-Kvika-Poyry_New-Power-Stations_Askja-Energy-Partners-Twitter-_July-2016According to the Icelandic Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization, the Icelandic government would most likely fulfill the increased demand by permitting the development of twelve new large hydro- and geothermal projects (as listed on the table at left). These are two hydropower projects and ten geothermal projects (or nine projects if Þeistareykir I and II would be defined as one project).

The ten geothermal projects are Þeistareykir I and Þeystareykir II in NE-Iceland, Bjarnarflag and Krafla II in NE-Iceland (Krafla I was constructed almost 40 years ago), Gráuhnúkar and Meitillinn in the Hengill geothermal area in SW-Iceland, Eldvörp and Stóra-Sandvík on the Reykjanes peninsula in SW-Iceland, and Sandfell and Sveifluháls in the Krýsuvík area in SW-Iceland. The two hydropower projects would be Blanda II in NE-Iceand and Hvammsvirkjun in Þjórsá in S-Iceland.

Eldvorp-Geothermal-Area-IcelandAll these twelve projects are already defined in utilization-category in the Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization. However, some of these projects are somewhat costly to develop when compared to all possible energy projects in Iceland (which means there are several cheaper options available, although today they are not classified as utilization-projects, by either classified as protected or on hold).

Recently, the Icelandic Energy Industry Organization and some of the power companies in Iceland started pushing for changes of the Master Plan, to have the Icelandic government and the parliament (Alþingi) to include several other lower-cost projects in the utilization-category (we will soon explain the cost-issues further, here at the Independent Icelandic and Northern Energy Portal). As several of the cheapest options for harnessing more hydro- or geothermal power are in environmentally sensitive areas, there will without doubt be strong opposition against major changes of the Master Plan.

IceLink-Kvika-Poyry_Increase-in-Power-Generation_2015-2035_Askja-Energy-Partners-Table-Portal_July-2016If/when the IceLink project will go through, the total Icelandic power generation will have to increase enormously. Most of the new generation, or 7,400 GWh of the total increase of 12,800 GWh in annual production. would be added as exported power to the UK. In this same period (2015-2035) Icelandic general consumption of electricity is expected to increase by 1,700 GWh and power consumption by heavy industries in Iceland is expected to increase by 3,700 GWh. In total, Icelandic electricity generation would thus increase 68 percent in the period 2015-2035. For more on this subject, we refer to the table at left, and our earlier post from last July 22nd.

UK-Iceland power cable needs 1,459 MW of new capacity

A subsea HVDC power cable between Iceland and the United Kingdom (UK) would call for proportionally extreme increase in Iceland’s generation capacity. According to a new report by Kvika Bank and Pöyry, Iceland needs to build new power capacity of 2,137 MW to supply both the cable and the domestic demand. The figure for the necessary new capacity for the cable only is expected to be 1.459 MW (as shown on the table below). The rest of the new capacity is to meet expected increase in domestic demand for electricity (until 2035).

IceLink-Kvika-Poyry_New-Capacity_Askja-Energy-Partners-Twitter_July-2016The cable is normally referred to as IceLink. The report by Kvika and Pöyry (available in Icelandic only) claims that high proportion of the needed new capacity for IceLink can be met with wind power (today Iceland has very small wind power industry, as new geothermal- and hydropower projects have been the least costly way to generate electricity in Iceland). The authors of the report expect that 550 MW of new wind power would be constructed to meet demand by the cable.

The second largest increase in Icelandic power capacity would be in the form of hydropower refurbishments (which would probably mostly be new turbines in current hydropower stations). This figure is expected to be 448 MW. However, the report does not explain in a clear manner how these refurbishments would be carried out. From the report it is also somewhat unclear why it is believed that 550 MW of new wind power will be a good opportunity for the business case – instead of for example somewhat less wind power and somewhat more hydropower.

Iceland-Small-Hydro-Power-Bruarvirkjun-Project_9-MWSubstantial part of the expected new Icelandic capacity until 2035 would come from new small hydropower stations. Such new small hydropower stations, each with a capacity less than 10 MW, would in total be close to 150 MW. This would probably mean dozens of new small running-river hydropower projects in Iceland. Such projects tend to be more costly than the traditional large Icelandic hydropower projects. However, high strike price for the electricity make such expensive projects financially viable, according to the report.

According to the report, 276 MW of new traditional hydro- and geothermal power will be needed to meet demand from the cable. Most of this capacity will be in geothermal (245 MW).

IceLink-Kvika-Poyry_New-Capacity-and-Generation_Askja-Energy-Partners-Twitter-_July-2016-2When also taking increased domestic power demand into account, the total new traditional hydro- and geothermal capacity needed by 2035 is expected to be 954 MW; 124 MW in traditional large hydropower and 830 MW in traditional geothermal power. Today, Iceland has 665 MW of geothermal power (and 1,986 MW of hydropower). So the expected increase in utilization of Icelandic geothermal power is quite enormous. It should be noted that figures on traditional hydro- and geothermal power projects in the report are based on the Icelandic Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization.

According to the report, considerable part of the new Icelandic power capacity to be developed is to meet expected increased demand from heavy industries in Iceland. Today, heavy industries in Iceland (which are mostly aluminum smelters) consume close to 80% of all electricity generated in the country. According to the report by Kvika Bank and Pöyry on IceLink, all the three aluminum smelters in Iceland will continue their operations in the coming years and decades. And the authors of the report expect that in the coming years and decades power demand of heavy industries in Iceland will increase. It is noteworthy that such assumptions could change dramatically, if for example one of the aluminum smelters in Iceland would close down.

Iceland-Geothermal-Theistareykir-areaFinally we should mention that if/when IceLink will be constructed, it is expected that the total increased power capacity in Iceland will be around 77% (increase from beginning of 2016). The increase in generation will be somewhat more or close to 68%. According to the above mentioned report, all the projects to meet this increase will be developed in the next 15-20 years. We will soon be revisiting this subject, explaining in more details what power projects will be needed to meet this high increase. Obviously such an increase will/would make Iceland’s position as the world’s largest electricity producer even more pronounced.

Cost of IceLink power cable: 2.8 billion EUR

According to a new report by Kvika Bank and Pöyry, prepared for the Icelandic Ministry of industries and Innovation, a subsea power cable between Iceland and the United Kingdom (UK) will cost EUR 2.8 billion (USD 3.1 billion).

HVDC-Icelink_Cost_Feb-2016-3This central cost scenario includes the 1,200 km long cable with a capacity of 1,000 MW, and the converter stations at both ends of the cable. When adding the onshore transmission installations needed in Iceland for connecting the cable to the power system, the total cost (central scenario) will be close to EUR 3.5 billion (USD 3.9 billion).

The report and additional material on the IceLink-interconnector can be downloaded from the Ministry’s website (the report is in Icelandic only). Note that all cost figures quoted in this article refer to the report’s central export scenario (there are several other scenarios, including a smaller cable of 800 MW).

To realize the project, it will be necessary for the British government to make a commitment of a minimum strike price of approximately 96-99 GBP/MWh (close to 130 USD/MWh).

HVDC-Icelink_strike-prices_Feb-2016-2Such a strike price would be quite similar to the strike price for new nuclear energy in the UK (as explained on the website of the UK government). And it would be substantially lower than recently agreed strike prices for new offshore wind power.

Now it has to be seen if the UK government wishes to pay GBP 115-120 for megawatt-hour of offshore wind power generated in British waters, or pay GBP 96-99 GBP for Icelandic renewable energy.

It should be noted that most of Iceland’s generation is and will be produced by hydropower and geothermal power (wind power in Iceland will increase but still be fairly small share of the total generation). This offers IceLink the possibility of much more flexibility than new British offshore wind power does. We, here at Askja Energy Partners, will soon be explaining further how the Icelandic power for IceLink will be generated.  Stay tuned!

Viking Link ready in 2022?

We already have subsea HVDC power cables being constructed between Norway and the United Kingdom (UK) and between Norway and Germany. These cables will be 700 km and 570 km, respectively. And now one more major connector if this kind is planned in the area, between UK and Denmark. That cable is referred to as Viking Link, will be 650 km long.

HVDC-Viking-Link-Uk-Denmark-MapViking Link is expected to have a capacity of up to 1,400 MW. Recently, the Danish Transmission System Operator Energinet and the UK National Grid decided to launch a tendering process for the examination of the seabed between the two countries. Both companies have expressed their strong believe in the positive effects of such a power connection, which will open up possibilities to harness more wind energy at competitive prices. The successful tenderer will carry out geophysical surveys and sampling to pinpoint areas of environmental and archaeological interest and help identify the best route for the marine cables and suitable landing locations.

For the UK, the main advantage of Viking Link would be in the access to more power, at the same time as that power will mostly be generated by harnessing renewable sources. For Denmark, the cable will open access to much larger market for Danish wind power. The plan is to take the final investment decision no later than in 2018. The cable could then become operational about four years later or 2022.

Unique opportunity for Statkraft

Norwegian state-owned power company Statkraft is by far the largest power producer in Norway. The company produces almost all the electricity by hydropower plants, often at a very low cost.

Statkraft-long-term-contracts-2015Large share of the electricity Statkraft is selling today, is produced to fulfill long-term contracts with heavy industries, such as aluminum smelters in Norway. The tariffs for most of this power are very low; in general substantially lower than the electricity price on the spot market of Nord Pool Spot. In the coming years, most of these contracts will run out, creating a great opportunity for Statkraft to increase its revenues and profits.

Today, close to 20 TWh of Statkraft’s production are sold by long-term contracts. This is approximately 40% of all the electricity Statkraft generates by hydropower stations in Norway and other Scandinavian countries (Statkraft has significant operations outside of Norway, particularly in Sweden). Within a few years, Statkraft will be able to put up to 15 TWh of extra electricity into the spot-market.

Norway-Statkraft-Vannkraft-NorgeWith the construction of the NSN Interconnector (or North Sea Link) and NordLink, Norway will soon have stronger transmission-links with Britain and Germany. These HVDC cables will have a combined capacity of 2.800 MW. This  access to the higher priced European spot markets will open up the possibility for increased revenues for Norwegian-made green electricity.

Although it is possible, and even likely, that some of the long-term power contracts of Statkraft may be re-negotiated, the new cables and expired contracts will create unique opportunities for Statkraft. Making Norway’s position as a giant green power battery even stronger. This is a path that other countries with extensive hydropower resources may follow, making Northern renewable energy even more profitable than it presently is.

Positive Interest in IceLink

The British-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce recently organized a seminar titled Interconnecting Interests – Examining the Issues Surrounding a Potential Submarine Cable that Might Supply the UK and Europe with Icelandic Green Energy. The event was held at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, with speakers from the energy industry, government and the environmental lobby, discussing the opportunities and difficulties of electricity interconnection.

Deep knowledge and experience

This seminar was an excellent opportunity for people to hear the views of specialists with extensive knowledge and experience on the subject. From their presentations it seems quite clear that there is a strong willingness on both the British and Icelandic side to consider the project very seriously.

IceLink-Iceland-UK-British-Chamber-of-Commerce_Sept-2015

It was the Icelandic Minister of Finance, Mr. Bjarni Benediktsson, who opened the seminar. He was followed by presentations by Mr. Charles Hendry, former Minister of State for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Mr. Douglas Parr, Chief Scientist and Policy Director of Greenpeace UK, Ms. Charlotte Ramsay, Head of Commercial Regulation and New Business at UK National Grid, and Mr. Edward M. Stern, President and CEO of Power Bridge. Mr. Hörður Arnarson, CEO of Icelandic power company Landsvirkjun, took part in the Panel after the presentations.

Probable electricity price in the range of 80-140 USD/MWh

In their presentations and discussions, speakers at the seminar discussed the matter in general terms rather than for example specifying detailed cost or revenue numbers. However, it can be argued that the power price for electricity sold from Iceland to the UK can be expected to be in the range of 80-140 USD/MWh.

Statnett-Norway-Denmark-Viking-ConnectorThese figures are the wholesale price for the electricity; the transmission cost is not included. At this stage it is not possible to give a precise number for the transmission cost via the subsea cable, but according to a recent report by McKinsey it could be close to 30-40 USD/MWh. This would mean that the total cost for the green electricity from Iceland could be between 120-180 USD/MWh.

Having in mind recent Contracts for Difference (CfD), where new British offshore wind power projects have received commitments for power price in the range of 180-240 USD/MWh, the Icelandic electricity could be very competitive. With regard to this, it is also very important to keep in mind that Icelandic hydro- and geothermal power is much more reliable power-sources than offshore wind in the UK.

Great opportunities for both Iceland and the UK

For the UK, an interconnector to Iceland would give access to substantial amounts of reliable green electricity. Icelandic hydropower reservoirs make the Icelandic electricity generation perfectly steerable, thus an excellent source for power at times of high demand in the UK.  For Iceland, a submarine cable to the UK could also have numerous positive effects. Besides increased security of supply by linking the Icelandic electricity transmission system with another electricity market, the IceLink could offer positive returns for the Icelandic electricity sector.

Iceland-UK-HVDC_Cable-Route-Bathymetry-nordic-seasPresently, most of Iceland’s electricity is sold at very low prices to heavy industries. New sale-contracts with several data centers and silicon plants will mean rising average power price. However, when having in mind that last year (2014) the average wholesale price from Landsvirkjun was just above 20 USD/MWh, it would obviously create very interesting opportunities for increased profitability selling electricity to the UK at 80-140 USD/MWh. The conclusion seems to be clear; IceLink has potentials to be an excellent win-win project for both Iceland and the United Kingdom.

Subsea HVDC cable between Norway and the UK

A subsea high voltage direct current (HVDC) electric cable will be constructed between Norway and the United Kingdom; the NSN Link. This was reported earlier this year (2015). And earlier this month (July 2015), it was announced that contracts have been awarded to build the cable and the converter stations.

NSN-Link_UK-Norway-HVDC-Cable-MapThe NSN Link (or NSN Interconnector) will be the longest subsea electric cable so far. The cable will connect Blyth in Northumberland on the UK side and Kvilldal in Rogaland on the Norwegian side. Today, the record length of such a cable is the NorNed cable between Norway and the Netherlands. NorNed is 580 km long, but NSN Link will be 730 km long. Thus, this new cable will increase the world record length of approx. 25%.

According to ABB, even longer submarine cables of this kind are already both technically and financially possible. Therefore it seems increasingly more likely that an interconnector between Iceland and Europe is only a matter of time.

NSN-Link-UK-Norway-HVDC-CableAs the NSN Link will be twin cabling, the total length will be approximately 1,460 km of cable. The capacity will be 1,400 MW. Owners and operators of the cable will be the Norwegian Transmission Operator Statnett and UK National Grid. The NSN Link is expected to be in operation by 2021.

By the NSN Link, Norwegians can take advantage of their highly flexible hydropower to increase the efficiency of their utilization of this great natural and renewable resource. By taking advantage of the price differences in the Norwegian and British electricity markets, and the price fluctuations within each day and night, the cable offers positive possibilities to maximize profits in the Norwegian electricity production.

NSN-Link-UK-Norway-HVDC-Cable-More-EfficiencyThe cable will also create new revenues for British electricity companies, as there will for example be an incentive for Norway to buy and import electricity from wind power farms in UK at periods when electricity demand is low. This creates opportunity to save water in the Norwegian reservoirs, which then will be used for generating electricity and export it to the UK when power prices are high.

An electric cable between Iceland and the UK would create similar opportunities. Currently, the pros and cons of such a cable are being considered by the Icelandic Ministry for Industry and Innovation. A further governmental decision on the matter may be expected early next year (2016).

Norway’s subsea interconnectors

The following article is by Mr. Björgvin Skúli Sigurðsson. Mr. Sigurðsson is the Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Icelandic power company Landsvirkjun. The article was originally published in Icelandic, in the Icelandic newspaper Morgunblaðið. This translation into English is by Askja Energy Partners:

Norway’s subsea interconnectors

According to Norwegian energy policy, the resources are utilized to create maximum value for the country. Norwegians sell oil on the international market and with new subsea interconnectors they are increasingly becoming important players at the European electricity markets.

Bjorgvin-Skuli-Sigurdsson-VP-LandsvirkjunThe NorNed cable between Norway and the Netherlands is the world’ longest submarine interconnector, 580 km long. It started operating in 2008, after more than two years construction period. Today, four submarine electric cables link Norway and Denmark, the most recent one from last March (2015). Danes have constructed  numerous wind parks and when the wind is not blowing in Denmark (thus limited electricity production) the links to Norway are used to transport  hydropower between the countries.

Three submarine cables being planned 

Norwegians now have three submarine cables under planning. The largest project is the NSN-cable between Norway and the United Kingdom (UK). It will be 700 km long, thus becoming the world’s longest subsea interconnector when it starts operating in 2020. The NordLink-cable between Norway and Germany will be 570 km. Like the NSN-cable, the NordLink  is scheduled to become operational in 2020. The third project will be one more cable between Norway and UK, the NorthConnect.  The Norwegian state-owned energy company Statkraft expects that other cable projects of similar size will take place before 2025.

Constructing subsea cables is a complex issue. For example, the NSN-cable will cross at least 14 gas pipelines which extend from drilling rigs in the North Sea. Also the cable route must take notice of the busy marine transports and fishing.

Electricity prices in Norway

Norwegian households are highly dependent on electricity, as most buildings have electric heating. In dry periods, when water in the Norwegian reservoirs is limited, the electricity price can be volatile. It may sound strange to some people, but the Norwegians have emphasized the importance of having subsea interconnectots to their neighbouring countries to keep electricity prices down, especially as a result of the high electricity prices during the drought of 2003. According to Norwegian authorities, electricity prices in Norway after 2008 would have been higher if the NorNed cable would not have come into operation.

Danish interconnector

Recently Denmark announced plans for a subsea link to the UK. The idea behind the project is to transport wind power from Denmark to the UK, and also use the interconnectors from Norway and Sweden  to Denmark, to transfer the flexible Norwegian and Swedish hydropower through Denmark to the British electricity market.

The author is VP of Marketing and Business Development at the Icelandic power company Landsvirkjun.

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