Offshore cables on gas pipelines -- EWEA transmission task force

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The thousands of kilometres of gas pipeline that stretch through the waters around Europe have a possible future in renewable energy: as a base on which to connect a trans-European network of power transmission cables for wind generated electricity -- particularly that produced offshore. The suggestion was made in Brussels in December at the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) offshore wind energy special topic conference.

Eddie O'Connor of Irish green marketer Airtricity, who leads an EWEA transmission task force drafting a strategy on the topic, stressed the importance of creating a Europe-wide transmission network in order to manage one of the biggest market risks for the young offshore wind sector. Thousands of megawatt of new generation is planned to be built in the next decade, but as of yet there is no way to get all that power to the markets that need it.

"We must guarantee access to the large markets so that all the electricity output is saleable," O'Connor said. "It's not so much a technical problem. We have the turbines and can marinise them. But we haven't yet started the debate on the issue of security of supply."

The task force will study how an EU-wide common regime can be formed to recover the cost of building these new transmission grids. The electric superhighway, around 11,000 kilometres long, is estimated to cost EUR 10 billion, or EUR 0.005 per customer. The task force also plans to draft a policy for regulators aimed at creating a common regulatory environment.

Trading arrangement

"Think about NordPool -- maybe the most sophisticated trading arrangement in the world," said O'Connor, referring to the Nordic Power Exchange. NordPool is an international commodity exchange for electrical power in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark. O'Connor pointed out that NordPool was founded because of renewable energy -- mainly the large hydro reserves that saturate the Swedish and Norwegian power markets in spring. "All we're doing here is talking of creating NordPool on a super-European level -- instead of four or five NordPool clones."

Wind energy is the only business looking at developing such a strategy and policy, according to O'Connor. "It's the only industry that has the potential on a trans-European scale. And individual states' efforts are not comprehensive enough."

Other speakers at the EWEA conference said that forming a trans-European power grid is not so different than what has been done in the transport sector for roads and high-speed railways, or for gas pipelines.

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