U.K. Power Supply Turmoil Eases as Cable to France Starts Up

The U.K. started receiving power through a new subsea cable from France, that’ll help ease supply troubles which led to record price spikes earlier this month.

The first commercial flows of electricity through the 1,000 megawatt interconnector, known as IFA2, started Friday. The U.K. government will rely on interconnectors to provide low carbon imports of power to help meet its goal of effectively eliminating emissions by 2050.

The 149-mile (240 kilometer) cable is the second link between the nations and the country’s fifth with the European Union. The project cost National Grid Plc and Reseau de Transport d’Electricite SA 700 million pounds ($791 million). Electricity had been due to start flowing in November, which would have given a boost to margins as they teetered on the edge of what’s acceptable under market rules.

U.K. Power Supply Turmoil Eases as Cable to France Starts Up

Britain is embarking on a huge build out of offshore wind, quadrupling its capacity in the next 20 years. Interconnectors will be a key part of exporting this electricity to foreign markets. The cables will benefit both Britain and Europe, giving grid managers everywhere additional flexibility to respond to shocks on the system and to buy the cheapest power.

“Interconnectors are a huge source of flexible supply,” Zac Richardson, head of interconnectors at National Grid said in an interview. “That’s increasingly important as our supplies are increasingly dominated by the variable renewables that we see.”

Supply margins in Britain are the lowest this winter for four years. The electricity system operator arm of National Grid has issued six alerts this season warning that the buffer of spare capacity is too low. The grid manager said in its Winter Outlook that it forecasts net imports for Britain through the interconnectors for most of the heating season.

U.K. Power Supply Turmoil Eases as Cable to France Starts Up

The delay to IFA2 starting was caused mainly by issues around the pandemic, Richardson said. The outcome of Brexit negotiations “was a concern” for the project too.

The Brexit agreement outlined new trading measures to be put in place by April 2022 which gives a “future platform for further interconnection opportunities for us and our European partners,” he said.

France has 51 interconnections with its 7 neighboring countries, according to RTE. The nation’s fleet of 56 nuclear reactors can provide steady round-the-clock power while the U.K. can offer cheap wind generation. The link will contribute to security of supply on both sides, RTE said.

The U.K.’s interconnectors run between Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland and France with a further link with Northern Ireland.

Interconnector capacity from the U.K. could increase to as much as 23 gigawatts by 2050 from 5 gigawatts now, according to a report by Aurora Energy Research, commissioned by the government.

Power on interconnectors flows toward the market with higher prices. Having more connections will lower U.K. prices and bills over time, Aurora said.

National Grid is working on two more interconnectors: one with Norway that’s due to be completed by the end of this year and one to Denmark that’s slated for the end of 2023. About 90% of the energy imported by interconnectors will be from zero carbon energy sources, the network company said.

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