Who will buy the surplus electricity?


The movement of electricity between European countries has been going on for decades; how likely is this to increase? Will the rising costs of fossil fuels push the EU towards renewables or will countries increase their ‘capacity’ via electricity imports?


Let’s look at where the UK & Ireland source their electricity, across 2012;


























Electricity produced

380,000 GWh

28,800 GWh

GMR Data 2013


So the lion’s share of electricity is produced via coal & gas in both countries. What about electricity that is imported or exported – 2% and 1.8% - a tiny amount; but as the amount of renewables increases, and crucially cannot be stored, the movement of electricity is definitely going to increase across the EU.



Nearly a quarter of Ireland’s electricity is produced via wind and many stakeholders expect that surplus wind generated electricity could be transported to the UK and possibly further afield –



The Irish Wind Energy Association believes there is a capacity to generate approximately 6,000MW from onshore and a further 4,000–5,000MW from offshore, meaning half of all Irish wind-generated energy could be exported to Britain,’ said IWEA chief executive Dr Michael Walsh in 2012. (1)



This potential trading of Ireland’s surplus (wind generated) electricity made me look further into the inter-national electricity trade. In the EU a leading energy think tank ‘Friends of the Super Grid’ (FOSG) believe that surplus renewably generated electricity can be traded throughout Europe via High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) electricity cables. The theory is that wind energy from Ireland and the North Sea, Hydro generated electricity from the lakes of Scandinavia and solar generated electricity from Italy, Turkey and North Africa, can power Europe via a continent wide electricity super grid. Denmark, for example, on the 3rd Nov 2013, surpassed 100% wind power, exporting excess energy to Germany and Sweden. (2)



I caught up with Ana Aguado, the CEO of FOSG(3) & put a few questions to her, regarding the details, challenges and restraints of European wide electricity interconnection;



GMR Data –How will the domestic price of electricity affect the construction of a European wide ‘supergrid’?


Ana Aguado-At the moment every member state has their own separate price of electricity and the model that FOSG is pursuing is ‘cost benefit analyses’ with the idea that there is a single price for the EU, so every country pays the same for electricity at a European level. This would counter the reluctance and bring stability in electricity prices and allow better movement.


GMR Data - Are the practicalities of moving electricity long distances i.e. North Africa to Northern Europe, going to cause delay, be too expensive or even stop the realisation of a ‘supergrid’.


Ana Aguado- The technology is definitely possible and the production and laying of cables is no more expensive than the laying of cables anywhere else. The true problem or factor that would slow down the realisation of the ‘supergrid’ would be the political willingness. This type of production and trade of electricity with some of these countries in North Africa is new and there are new problems and issues that need to be looked at in both Europe and Africa.




An EU ‘Supergrid’ has been mooted at various points across the last 50 years. Today the UK, for example, is connected by a HVDC electricity cable to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and the Netherlands, with additional interconnectors on the table.



I interviewed the Head of European Policy Liaison from one of the UK’s ‘Big 6’ energy suppliers to ascertain his view on the prospect of electricity interconnectors;


  GMR Data - Where do you see the long term future (10 years) of interconnection in regards to Europe?


More interconnection is needed to enable the single market (it is the only way to transport the product across borders), to improve Security of Supply in general and in particular where certain countries are over-reliant on the often uncertain generation by most major forms of renewable energy sources (hydro being the exception, assuming earlier precipitation is not too low).


 The EC refers to interconnection in its recent Energy Roadmap 2050 – this gives the official line. However, with EC finances under severe strain, there will be two conflicting forces for public funding of such infrastructure: a major pressure to restrict all spending in general v. the need to encourage projects that will encourage economic growth in EU


GMR Data - In regards to a ‘supergrid’ are the practicalities of moving electricity long distances i.e. North Africa to northern Europe,


A)     Going take a long time to plan / consent / design and build?

Yes of course, as it would be an enormous project with many hundreds of stakeholders and a huge range of physical / technical challenges.

B)     Be too expensive?

Of course, as each route is hundreds of kilometres. Rule of thumb is €100-150m each end plus €1.5-2.5m per km per GW.

C)      Or even stop the realisation?

 The best answer would be “will the benefits outweigh the costs” (i.e. a traditional CBA), but the reality is that the answer may be politically driven


  GMR Data - Is renewable energy seen as too 'lightweight' to support heavy investment at this point vs. the more traditional ways of electricity production?


I do not think the issue is (or should be) lightweight / heavyweight. Decisions should simply be an all-inclusive CBA, including costs of: CO2 emission / avoidance; network reinforcement to cope with intermittency; additional support generation to cope with intermittency; social costs of potential enforced Demand-side response; etc.






So is the potential of moving renewably sourced electricity a reality or fantasy? Of course the reduction in the use of fossil fuels/reduction in CO2 emissions would please many people, however the thought of relying on other countries’ for a fuel supply does not sit well with politicians, the public and crucially domestic energy suppliers themselves. Watch this space.






(1)    http://www.theengineer.co.uk/uk-and-ireland-team-up-to-tap-renewable-energy-resources/1009101.article


(2)    http://energytransition.de/2013/11/denmark-surpasses-100-percent-wind-power/?utm_content=buffer8a4ff&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=Buffer


(3)    http://www.friendsofthesupergrid.eu/