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North Sea Supergrid one step closer

Published on: 8. August 2011

UK and Norwegian actors made strides last week on outlining a roadmap for a supergrid – an interlinked electricity network between the North Sea nations.

North Sea Supergrid one step closer
UK and Norwegian researchers have taken the initiative in laying groundwork for a future North Sea supergrid. The organising committee for the London working seminar consisted of, from left, Research Director Magnus Korpås and Senior Scientist Eivind Solv

Written by: Atle Abelsen

Leading research institutions in the UK and Norway have taken the initiative to bring together the main actors working towards a supergrid between the countries bordering the North Sea. During an intensive seminar in London, representatives of regulatory authorities and Transmission System Operators (TSO) met with industry players and researchers to clarify the challenges involved in future cooperation on developing the grid, and the barriers that must be surmounted.

“We believe that researchers will play an essential role in this effort,” says Petter Støa, Vice President of Research at SINTEF Energy Research. He is on a leave of absence from SINTEF for a research position in London at Brunel University, a leading UK institution in the field.

“Researchers will be able to contribute by quality-assuring proposals and making sure that the process moves as quickly and efficiently forward as possible.”

The North Sea supergrid is a key component of the comprehensive European plans for developing large-scale wind farms, most of which will be offshore. Since wind is an intermittent energy source, large amounts of balance power will also need to be transmitted to Europe, mostly from Norway, to ensure security of supply.

National differences

Dr Charlotte Ramsay is Senior Manager for European Electricity Policy at the UK regulatory agency Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM). She summarises the differences between the Norwegian and UK regulatory provisions as follows:

“In Norway, energy regulators are waiting for a political decision to invest in offshore generation and networks. In the UK, this political decision has been made and the regulatory framework is in place to deliver national offshore connections. However, for both countries, the next step to realising a supergrid, and offshore network that crosses national boundaries, still needs support. The UK business model for a supergrid is based on the need to transmit large volumes of renewable energy, while Norway’s model hinges on exporting balance power to Europe and importing cheap surplus energy from Europe.”

Dr Ramsay emphasises that Norway and the UK share a number of needs: for security of supply, a reliable supply of labour, reasonably-priced electricity to households, and not least achieving common ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Challenges to face

She points out that several challenges must tackled before a roadmap for the supergrid can be completed. As far as possible, early investments should not restrict optimal development of the grid. This requires some element of “anticipatory investment”, energy consumers could be asked to underwrite significant sums and this must be justified. Currently, there is considerable uncertainty in key aspects of the offshore supergrid like; levels of offshore wind deployment, commercial deployment of advanced HVDC technologies and onshore planning. Given this, she questions, “How do we know what the optimal design of an offshore supergrid will be? And without this certainty, how can we put in place a regulator regime that keeps our technological options  open, but minimises these risks and costs for consumers?”

“Furthermore, the political, regulatory, market-related and technical frameworks will need to be better harmonised. Countries must devise a supranational means of coordinating investments, and regulation of these shared assets is not straightforward. Should the supergrid be regulated by an “über-regulator” or through a collaborative effort between the involved countries’ national regulatory authorities? The roles of investors and third-party investors must also be defined,” adds Dr Ramsay, making it clear that these are her own personal and professional perspectives and do not necessarily represent the official policy of OFGEM.

Preparing a document

Dr Støa is pleased with the outcome of the seminar, and together with his colleagues is drawing up a document to be submitted to other European agencies working within the same field.

One of these is the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative (NSCOGI), a European political strategy group launched by all the countries bordering the North Sea to work out the political, legal and market-related basis for a common North Sea supergrid. Other agencies include the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA) and the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO), as well as the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy (DG Energy) and DG Research.

“Now it is important to disseminate our input and conclusions so that all the European initiatives at various levels can be coordinated,” stresses Dr Støa. One measure will be to hold a joint working seminar this autumn, with many of the abovementioned agencies participating.

Through their involvement in the Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research CEDREN and NOWITECH, SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) were responsible for the London working seminar, together with Brunel University in London and the UK Energy Research Centre (UK ERC). More information will follow when the presentations from the seminar are released.