Arguing for a European super grid -- North Sea 10 GW proposed

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Irish wind energy company Airtricity has unveiled plans for a 10 GW offshore wind project in the North Sea between the UK, Germany and Netherlands. With some 2000 turbines, it would be the largest offshore wind project proposed for European waters. The EUR 22 billion wind farm is the foundation project in the company's even more ambitious proposals for a pan European sub sea "supergrid" that would link a series of offshore wind farms from the Baltic through the North Sea and Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean.

"Supergrid" was registered as a trademark by Airtricity a number of years ago when the company began promoting an offshore electricity network to feed power from offshore wind farms into national grids. Swedish engineering group ABB began work with Airtricity in September 2005 to design a high-voltage offshore AC/DC grid. Airtricity claims that the scale of the network means that Europe will have access to wind energy at all times, because the wind is always blowing somewhere on the grid.

Political backing

Last month Airtricity launched its proposals to British members of parliament at Westminster to secure political backing and to influence a major government review of energy policy, now in progress. The government expects to announce its conclusions from the review this summer. Airtricity says it is also holding discussions with German and Dutch parliamentarians and officials.

Airtricity is looking to attract partners to the project and to pave the way for grid connection into the national networks of the three countries. A number of potential sites for the 10 GW wind farm have been identified, says the company.

"Supergrid and the 10 GW foundation project are practically and symbolically significant proposals to invest in and release to Europe its most abundant primary energy resource," according to Airtricity's Eddie O'Connor.

"Europe needs a reliable, secure and environmentally friendly energy supply: Supergrid supports that aim and will be capable of helping Europe meet its 2010 targets and achieving energy independence," he says.

Airtricity, meantime, is understood to be raising EUR 200-250 million in private equity to fund its development pipeline in the US, UK and Ireland. It plans to raise a further EUR 600-700 million in debt finance by the end of the year, according to a report in the Sunday Times. The company has 169 MW of operating wind capacity and over 3000 MW of projects under development. In America, Airtricity plans to install 200 MW of wind this year, 400 MW next year and increasing amounts to reach a total $1.5 billion investment in the US by 2010.

EU policy help

Meantime, new proposed EU legislation could help facilitate Airtricity's Supergrid ambitions. In a move towards greater interconnection between European states, the European Parliament has voted in favour of amendments to guidelines on Trans-European Energy Networks in the enlarged union. The aim of the new guidelines is to enable the internal market for gas and electricity to be completed and guarantee security of supply through more interconnection between member states and neighbouring countries. Better interconnection also allows for greater proportions of wind power.

The parliament's amendments would boost cross border projects for integrating networks and create a European co-ordinator to iron out problems or delays associated with priority interconnection projects. A genuine market in gas and electricity can only be achieved by improving and increasing interconnections, explains the parliament's rapporteur on the subject, French member of parliament Anne Laperrouze.

The European Wind Energy Association says the text adopted by the parliament could move the process of interconnection forward, not least towards the establishment of a grid for offshore wind energy.

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