Enormous Under-Sea Interconnectors Saved the UK 2 million Tonnes of Carbon Emissions in 2021

Interconnectors have an important role to play in how we produce and use energy. These huge undersea cables that allow surplus electricity to flow between different countries saved the UK 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions between January and September in 2021. According to the National Grid, this figure is equivalent to taking 933,100 cars off the road or planting 2 million trees.

It is estimated that between 2020 and 2030, interconnectors will help prevent 100 million tonnes of carbon emissions being produced which would be equivalent to taking 2 million cars off the road. Interconnectors will help the UK and other countries to reach net zero by moving zero-carbon energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed most. This is crucial while we work towards replacing fossil fuels such as coal and gas which emit harmful greenhouse gases with renewable sources like offshore wind and solar which produce clean energy.  The hope is that by 2030, 90 per cent of electricity imported via National Grid will come from zero carbon sources.

Duncan Burt, chief sustainability officer at the National Grid said:

“Interconnectors have a huge impact as we transition to a renewable power system.”

As renewable energy is hard to store, these cables help to prevent excess power being wasted by allowing it to flow to another country.

Working together via these cables means that if the wind doesn’t blow in Scotland one day, the UK can power the grid with wind from Germany or solar from Spain instead of firing up the gas. In turn the UK can sell power to other countries in Europe on very windy days.

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In a lot of ways interconnectors are the perfect technology to integrate renewable energy and ensure reliable, affordable and decarbonised energy for homes and businesses. 

The world’s longest underwater electricity cable, the National Grid’s North Sea Link (NSL), was completed in 2021 allowing the UK and Norway to share renewable energy for the first time.

The NSL took six years to build. Laying of the undersea cables began in 2018 and more than four million working hours were spent on the project, including 5,880 days working at sea.

Enabling these two countries to trade in energy means that the electricity cable will help reduce the burning of fossil fuels in the UK and avoid 23 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030. In Norway, 98% of electricity already comes from renewable energy sources, mainly from hydropower connected to large reservoirs.

When wind generation is high and electricity demand low in Britain, NSL will mean renewable power can be exported from the UK, conserving water in the process. When demand is high in Britain and there is low wind generation, hydropower can be imported from Norway which makes it mutually beneficial for both nations.

The National Grid’s North Sea Link (NSL), the 450-mile cable which connects Blyth in Northumberland with the Norwegian village of Kvilldal will provide enough clean electricity to power 1.4 million homes, once at full capacity.

Currently the National Grid has 5 interconnectors which effectively plug the UK’s power grid into those in Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands, with 2 more in France. The “Viking Line” is set to link the UK with Denmark from 2023.

Mr. Burt said that the interconnector with Norway is “really important” because of its significant hydropower which is very flexible.

He said:

“Norway will basically act as Europe’s battery. When we’ve got high renewables, we’ll send it to Norway and they’ll use that power, or they’ll use it to pump water and store the energy in the hydro power stations. And then when we need power in the UK, the power will flow back from Norway to the UK.”

Roz Bulleid from green think tank Green Alliance said that though the UK has made great strides in cleaning up its power, “we still need to kick gas plants off the grid and increase the rate at which we switch our cars and heating from gas to electricity”.

By linking Britain to neighbouring countries, interconnectors can import cheaper clean energy when it’s needed, while exporting excess power so that both Britain and its neighbours have access to a broader and more flexible supply of electricity.

There are 3 massive benefits to interconnectors. They allow an energy supply that is sustainable, reliable and affordable.

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