Good neighbours – and HVDC – could help manage energy droughts in future

The search for power supplies that will provide solutions to still, cold weather periods that leave the GB market short of supply at the same time as its neighbours, has driven more interest in gas storage and in a ‘further, faster’ approach to new renewables.
Wider distribution can mean more renewables is not just more of the same. Power exchanges with markets that are much further away, and have different weather and demand patterns, can help manage difficult periods for both.
Of course we can already do this to some extent. This is why offshore wind in the Celtic Sea or floating far offshore in the North Sea is of such interest.
But we can look to share further afield as well, much more easily than was possible in the past. What has changed the game on this is HVDC interconnectors, which allow very long cables to connect to distant markets without the huge energy losses inherent in the AC technology that has been previously used on land.
A new link just starting up between between GB and Norway, with its abundant hydropower, is a case in point. That cable is 450 miles long. The very long connections made possible by HVDC moves projects from the ‘if only’ to the practicable. For example, connecting Iceland to the GB market to transmit power from its geothermal sources becomes achievable.
It also raises the possibility of connecting Europe to other markets. In this context it is interesting that Hitachi ABB Power Grids announced today that its consortium has been awarded a major contract for the first ever large-scale HVDC interconnection in the Middle East and North Africa. It will enable Saudi Arabia and Egypt to exchange up to 3,000MW of electricity. It will be the first interconnection allowing the exchange of electric power between the two countries and it will give Egypt access to the interconnected power grids of the Arabian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia access to those of North Africa.
Claudio Facchin, chief executive of Hitachi ABB Power Grids noted that “we are enabling interconnections between continents, with unique capability to reliably exchange electric power at scale, across borders and time zones.” In the longer term, the link has the potential to be part of a more broadly interconnected energy system between Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, allowing the exchange of solar power from the south and east with wind and hydro power from the north.
It looks set to beat into operation another interconnector between Europe and its neighbouring markets : the so-called EuroAsia Interconnector, an HVDC link between Israel, Cyprus and Greece. It will allow interchange with Europe’s Internal Electricity Market and it is highlighted as a ‘Project of Common Interest’ by the EU.
Other proposals have been made, recently one that would connect the GB grid directly with Morocco. That seems to supersede an earlier longstanding proposal to build a massive solar array in the Sahara to supply GB with power – the earlier project would have exported the power via an interconnector across to Spain and then make use of existing connections.
Personally, I am extremely wary of any project that gives the impression that African resources are there for convenient extraction to meet European needs – and the Moroccan government is involved in the project.
But let’s assume that consumers in Morocco or Egypt or Saudi Arabia are as happy to sell us their power as their counterparts in Norway and Iceland. Then interconnected markets in Africa or Europe can export or import from their neighbours in exactly the same way that, on a smaller scale, happens within those markets now. True, limits in gas supply from Russsia have been one of the causes of the current crisis bit that is an argument to go further, faster on diverse connections, not for pulling up the drawbridge.
In the long term, along with many other solutions such as long term storage – perhaps as hydrogen – mutual aid will be a key option for managing periods when one or other power source is at its minimum supply or maximum price. Technology may ride to the rescue of our new power markets – if we look out for the opportunities of sharing technology as well as producing technology.

1 comment for “Good neighbours – and HVDC – could help manage energy droughts in future

  1. David Dundas
    October 15, 2021 at 9:25 AM

    HVDC interconnects are not new, the one that connects France and the UK has been running for decades. The problem is the cost of the cables with insulation for a million volts and more. The interconnect with Southern Morocco to Devon will be a financial challenge, but the export of solar energy as electricity, hydrogen or ammonia from countries that have abundant sun is a new opportunity for them and for many it can replace their fossil fuel economy before the 2050 deadline, eg NEOM for Saudi Arabia.

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