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MPs: Britain needs North Sea 'supergrid'

Sept. 26, 2011 at 6:36 AM   |   Comments

LONDON, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Britain needs to develop an undersea "supergrid" of electricity transmission cables to capitalize on the North Sea's wind power potential, lawmakers say.

A report released by the House of Commons Energy Committee says that while wind power and other alternative energy forms have the potential to turn Britain from a net importer of energy to a net exporter -- creating thousands of jobs along the way -- an undersea transmission grid that could link to a future European supergrid is essential to reach that promise.

"The U.K. is virtually an electricity island," says the report, which urges that the British government end its "laissez-faire approach to offshore transmission" by developing a coordinated power grid in the North Sea.

Committee Chairman Tim Yeo called warned that such an undersea grid would cost billions of dollars but is necessary to make the "massive gamble" being made on wind power to pay off.

The report reasons that an undersea transmission grid connected to Europe is needed for several key reasons.

One is that it would address the long-standing dilemma of how to fill in generating gaps created when the wind isn't blowing across the North Sea. If Britain were connected to the rest of continent's grid, wind and solar power generated in other countries could be tapped.

Also, it said, undersea transmission lines would relieve pressure to construct "an advancing army of pylons" across Britain that would be needed to transmit large amounts of electricity from offshore wind farms, The Daily Telegraph reported.

"Offshore networks can deliver electricity where it's needed without adding to the advancing army of pylons that's marching its way across our countryside," Yeo said. "If we connect our offshore wind farms one by one then we'll see scores of landing points, each twice the size of a (soccer field)."

He concluded, "The U.K.'s offshore renewables are too valuable to be left to the government's hands-off approach on transmission."

The call for billions to be spent on an undersea grid may be received seriously by the government given British Prime Minister David Cameron's stated support of plans exploring linking green energy projects in the North, Baltic and Irish seas.

Earlier this year, Cameron and Energy Minister Chris Huhne announced the country would work with Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Norway and Belgium in the North Seas Offshore Grid Initiative.

The goal, they said, would be to "ensure planning, market, regulatory and technical challenges are properly addressed and the right framework created for industry to invest in future projects."

A North Sea grid could be a crucial first step and building block to hook Britain up to a Europe-wide supergrid, the report said. But it noted the tremendous costs that would be involved in constructing such a project.

"We believe that the cost of creating a European supergrid will be very high indeed. We also recognize that reaching international agreement about the necessary regulatory and market frameworks will be extremely difficult," it said.

The potential of a European supergid was touted earlier this year when Britain's National Grid in April completed the BritNed power cable project with Dutch grid operator TenneT.

The 160-mile, high-voltage undersea transmission line was laid from the Isle of Grain in Kent, England, to Maasvlakte, near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, The Guardian reported.

"The supergrid will be built, but gradually," Wilfried Breuer, head of power transmission solutions for the German engineering conglomerate Siemens, told the newspaper. "It's not one investment like a highway. It will develop over 10-15 years, leg by leg."

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