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Britain hits new import record as interconnector capacity grows

Britain's interconnector capacity is continuing to grow, and is expected to reach 8.4GW by Christmas. Image: Getty.

Britain's interconnector capacity is continuing to grow, and is expected to reach 8.4GW by Christmas. Image: Getty.

Britain hit a new electricity import record in a glimpse of the future according to energy market analyst EnAppSys.

On 20 August net interconnector imports reached an instantaneous high of 5,847MW at 12:20pm according to the company. This was due to the Irish market exporting to Britain at the time – it generally imports from Britain – as well as the new NSL link to Norway running as part of a test ahead of its commercial go-live date on 1 October.

When the link goes live it is expected to provide cheap and green hydro power from Western Norway to the British market almost all of the time.

Because of this, we can “expect records to be broken again then or at least when full load tests take place in September,” said Phil Hewitt, director of EnAppSys.

“In addition, a new interconnector between GB and France, which takes installed connections to France to 4GW, starts testing at the end of September. This new Eleclink interconnector actually goes through the running tunnels of the Channel Tunnel and was originally going to go live in early 2022. However, due to COVID the cables have been installed more quickly than anticipated because there are fewer trains using the tunnels.”

By Christmas, Britain is expected to have 8.4GW of installed cables to other markets, meaning it could source around 25% of its electricity from overseas.

Net imports to Britain for the week 16-23 August 2021. Image: EnAppSys.
Net imports to Britain for the week 16-23 August 2021. Image: EnAppSys.

Currently imports from mainland Europe are cheaper than electricity generated in Britain because of the Carbon Price Support – a domestic top-up tax levied on top of the UK’s carbon price. These transmission and balancing charges give a price advantage to EU market players.

In June, EnAppSys released analysis that showed the cost of interconnector capacity to Britain is the most expensive in Europe due to these charges. This added to the Renewable Infrastructure Development Group in May suggesting that green energy infrastructure investment is being jeopardised by British transmission charges that favour EU electricity imports.

Despite these charges, Britain could become a net exporter in the long-run, utilising its increased interconnector capacity, which is expected to grow as two new cables come online in 2023-24, connecting the country with Germany and Denmark and adding a 2.8GW.

Hewitt said: “In the long run, Britain will stop being a net importer of electricity as more offshore wind is built around its shores. During periods when GB has more low-carbon generation than it needs, it may decide to dump excess power into Europe. This could become an important factor in reversing the interconnectors and changing GB into a net exporter of power, perhaps as soon as 2025.”

Britain was Europe's second biggest net importer in the first half of 2021, with EnAppSys recording 12.3TWh.

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