UK and Europe strengthen electricity links against backdrop of Brexit uncertainty

The UK continues to press ahead with plans to significantly increase its Interconnector links with Continental Europe.

Negotiations over the UK’s exit from the European Union, currently scheduled for 29 March, have been turbulent to say the least, with the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal twice rejected by the House of Commons. However, this is having no real impact on energy infrastructure, with new developments strengthening electricity links across the Channel. More information on the impact of Brexit on the energy industry can be found here.

The first electricity link connecting Britain with Belgium became operational on 31 January 2019. The 1GW power link had been under construction since 2016, with funding provided by a joint venture between Britain’s National Grid and Belgian system operator Elia.

The Government wants to see all the current planned projects through to operation, the majority of which will not be completed until after the UK has left the EU. Business Secretary, Greg Clark had indicated he was keen for the UK to remain in the EU’s Internal Energy Market, although the final decision will depend on the conditions of any final withdrawal agreement.

 

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Following on from the Belgium link, two more links with France are under construction – ElecLink and IFA2 – with both scheduled to be operational by 2020. A North Sea Link with Norway is also progressing, expected to be fully commissioned in 2021.

As a consequence, over the next three years, Interconnector capacity between the UK and Europe is expected to more than double to over 8GW.

This will provide the British power market with access to greater supplies and improved flexibility in meeting peak demand. Tight surplus power margins triggered sharp spikes in Day-ahead power prices last winter, particularly during the Beast from the East cold snap. The threat of cold, windless days will remain a problem for the UK going forward. The incentive for investment in increased interconnection for the UK is clear.

 

Interconnectors

The UK now operates five interconnector links, including the Nemo Link. Three are with mainland Europe via France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and two are with Ireland. Total capacity across the links is now 5GW, with the completion of Nemo. A further 3.4GW of interconnector capacity is currently under construction.

 

UK links target France and Ireland

In addition to those under construction, a further four additional interconnectors with France are in the pipeline. A new 1.4GW FAB cable to Devon was granted planning approval earlier last year. The 2GW AQUIND Interconnector, planned for Portsmouth, received approval from energy regulator Ofgem in September 2017. Further connections include two 1.4GW projects, the GridLink Interconnector in Kent and the Channel Cable. Both are hoping to be online by 2022.

Developers are also looking to take advantage of high renewable availability in Ireland. Utilising the short distance between Wales and the Republic of Ireland, four interconnectors are planned across the Irish Sea. The GreenConnect, Greenlink and Greenwire North and South developments could add 3.5GW of transmission capacity between Britain and Ireland. Ireland is also planning its own direct link with France, but the Celtic Interconnector is only in the early planning stages.

 

Scandinavian connections

The UK also has early plans to tap into the Scandinavian energy market, hoping to take advantage of high levels of installed renewable capacity as well as hydropower reserves in the region. Two interconnector links are in planning with Norway. These will run to Peterhead in Northeast Scotland and Blyth in northern England – both with a capacity of 1.4GW.

A further 1.4GW Viking Link is in planning that will connect the UK with Denmark. Just last week the UK Government gave final approval of the project, which is scheduled to come online in 2023. Developer National Grid Viking Link Limited (NGVL) has explicitly stressed that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union “does not influence the plans to build and operate Viking Link between the UK and Denmark.”

An ambitious 1,000km IceLink interconnector is also in planning and will connect Scotland with Iceland. However, the €3.5bn project is only at the concept stage and it is expected to be at least ten years until this link could be operational.

Positive Winter Outlook from National Grid

National grid has published its yearly Winter Outlook report for the 2018/19 season. The report forecasts an electricity margin of 7.1GW, which is 0.9GW more than last year.

Transmission system demand is predicted to peak at 48.2GW, 2.5GW less than last winter, during the week commencing 10 December 2018. This includes the sum of national demand (48.85GW), alongside the demand from power stations (600MW) and the base case interconnector export value (750MW).

The Winter Outlook expects this season to operate differently to last year. Over the last two winters, gas was the cheaper fuel type for electricity generation. However, as global gas prices have risen, it’s more likely that coal will replace gas generation to some degree over the season.

 

Interconnectors

In 2014, the interconnectors were not eligible to participate in the Capacity Market’s (CM) T-4 auction. As a result, they hold no CM obligations for winter 2018/19, including interconnector capacity, as some contracts were secured by interconnectors in the Early Auction.

The Winter Outlook expects an average import flow of 2,130MW, out of a total 3,000MW (2,000MW from the French IFA interconnector and 1,000MW from the Netherlands BritNed interconnector), and an export flow to Ireland of 750MW.

National Grid anticipates that forward prices in Continental European markets will be lower than in Britain. As a result, we will likely see a net flow of power from the Continent to the UK during peak power demand periods. However, outages within the Belgium nuclear fleet, which have extended to November and beyond, could result in increases to Continental prices, causing uncertainty on interconnector flow direction.

Nemo Link, a new interconnector, is under construction and may come into commercial service at the end of January 2019. Once commissioned, it will provide a 1GW capability between Belgium and the UK.

 

Gas

The gas demand forecast for winter 2018/19 is 46.6 billion cubic meters (bcm), lower than the winter 2017/18 outturn. Peak demand for the coldest weather conditions (or a 1-in-20 winter, meaning exceptional demand on a winter day which statistically occurs once every 20 years) is forecast at 483mcm/day, with a margin of available supply of 92 million cubic meters (mcm).

The report estimates that for an average cold day this winter, the demand forecast is expected to be 407mcm/day. The non-storage supply forecast is 360mcm/day, to which 92mcm of storage can be added, providing National Grid a cold day supply forecast in excess of the forecast demand.

Average gas exports through the IUK to Continental Europe are expected to be lower than winter 2017/18 due to the expiry of long-term contracts. As a result, National Grid predicts that deliveries through from the Balgzand Bacton Line (BBL) may be price-sensitive through the season.

Following a decision by the Dutch government to cut Groningen production, output from the site will be reduced from 21bcm/year in winter 2017/18 to 12bcm/year by winter 2022/23. Production from Groningen this year will not be dictated by a cap, but instead will be weather dependent, producing no more than necessary to meet security of supply.

 

Liquefied natural gas (LNG)

During seven of the last eight months, supply of LNG to the network has been lower than in the same period in the previous year. Demand for LNG is comparatively high in Asian markets, especially in China where gas is expected to continue to grow, as it replaces coal in the Chinese heating sector. High demand, and the associated high prices have drawn LNG away from European markets.

The Winter Outlook does not expect LNG supply to the country to be high on many days this winter. However, if demand and prices rise substantially within the UK, LNG imports will increase, just as they did at the end of February 2018.

 

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