United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Yeo dampens supergrid hopes

UK: Plans to build a European supergrid to distribute wind power from the north-west of the continent and solar from the south are decades away from realisation, according to Tim Yeo, chairman of the UK parliament's Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, which has investigated the potential benefits of such a project.

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Yeo said a supergrid capable of transferring large amounts of power would be delayed by the need for governments to negotiate complicated treaties to govern its use. The required level of government-to-government co-operation would be very difficult to achieve, added Yeo.

Speaking ahead of the publication of the committee's report on the supergrid in the autumn, Yeo said: "In practice, it's decades away." He concluded that he would be very surprised if a serious start was made on the project within the next ten years.

His comments contradict evidence given by Eddie O'Connor, chief executive of UK renewable-energy developer Mainstream Renewable Power and the driving force behind the industry group Friends of the Supergrid (FOSG), to the committee. "We are talking about the first leg of the supergrid being built by 2020," he said.

This first leg would involve linking the offshore wind farms of four countries - such as Britain, Germany, Belgium and Norway - to help balance variable renewable-electricity generation and reduce the amount of backup fossil-fuel generating capacity required in each country.

However, Ana Aguado, director-general of FOSG, agreed with Yeo. "If you consider the regulatory framework existing today then, he's right, it's not going to happen now," she said. "It is the position of our organisation that it could be done by 2020 if there was the political will to make the necessary regulatory changes." Aguado noted that the first European internal electricity-market directive was passed 14 years ago, yet there is still no fully functioning single power market. "For us it's still too slow," she said.

Moving forward

Progress is being made, however. In December nine EU countries and Norway signed up to the European Commission's North Sea Countries' Offshore Grid Initiative (NSCOGI), to develop an integrated offshore grid along with regulatory and legal frameworks. Working groups will publish potential grid designs by the middle of 2012 and their final report by the end of the year.

Britain is also developing an All Islands Approach to link with Ireland, and France via the Channel Islands, as well as a Nordic-Baltic Initiative. UK energy minister Charles Hendry told the committee that Britain had already held ministerial meetings with France, Norway and Iceland.

Matthew Knight, business development director at renewables developer Siemens and a founder member of FOSG, told the committee that UK electricity generator National Grid was discussing seven potential interconnectors with other European countries, which could all be built before 2020. "I'm absolutely convinced that some elements of what will one day be the supergrid will be built this decade," he said.

"It's not going to be finished for decades but I am sure we will start it this decade."

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