European supergrid will boost UK energy security, say MPs

Posted: 24 September 2011

Connecting the UK's electricity system with neighbouring countries via a new European 'supergrid' would allow the National Grid to balance supply and demand more effectively - according to a report by the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee.

European supergrid map
Map of proposed European supergrid. Source: Friends of the Supergrid

The cost of developing such a supergrid could be very high, the report warns. But it may bring a host of economic benefits - including tens of thousands of new jobs in the offshore renewable industry - and could allow the UK to become a net exporter of energy. It would also deliver a 25% capital cost saving on connecting each new offshore wind or marine energy farm compared to connecting each site individually.

Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee said: "The UK’s electricity system is the least interconnected of all European Countries – but we also have vast offshore resources of renewable energy. In fact, we potentially have enough wind, wave and tidal energy to more than match our North Sea oil and gas production and transform the country from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter.

"If we continue developing these renewable resources site-by-site it could be prohibitively expensive with large individual connections for each power plant. Developing an integrated and interconnected offshore network would allow us to tap these huge resources cost-efficiently and prepare the ground for a future European Supergrid – if it is necessary and feasible in future."

Balancing supply and demand

A European supergrid would enable the National Grid to balance supply and demand using foreign electricity sources as well as UK ones.

Skegness offshore windfarm
Skegness offshore windfarm. Photo © Dave Hughes

This will become increasingly necessary as polluting yet flexible fossil fuel generation is phased out, in favour of clean but intermittent sources of renewable energy. The committee also argues that an offshore network could provide vital support to our ageing onshore grid and found that coordinating offshore networks could reduce the impact of new transmission on the landscape.

Between 80 and 280 wind farms are likely to be constructed in the North Sea in the next 20 years. The cost and size of these new assets would be prohibitive if single connections to the shore were made, according to the report.

Offshore connections

The committee suggests that offshore connections are developing in a haphazard way and need more coordination from Government if it is to achieve its ambitious plans for offshore wind. The committee urges the Government to adopt the advice of the committee on Climate Change and provide certainty to investors by making a firm commitments to support offshore wind and marine generation through the 2020s in order to create the confidence necessary for anticipatory investment from the private sector. 

Commenting on the report, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Paul Steedman said: "A European supergrid is essential for boosting our energy security and creating new jobs and industries by allowing UK plc to fully exploit our green energy potential. Plugging into the supergrid will also help free households from expensive fossil fuels and give them long-term protection from soaring power bills.

"When the wind's not blowing in Britain, it usually is elsewhere in Europe - the supergrid will enable the UK to export clean power during windy periods and import it from abroad when the weather's calmer."