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Britain is importing more power from overseas than ever before

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Britain is becoming increasingly reliant on power from overseas, as it saw a record day for electricity imports on August 20. 

Over the last few years, the UK has seen a number of new interconnector cables either approved or come online, with the country now seeing the fruits of those new cables. 

On August 20 at 12:20pm, a test on the new North Sea Link interconnector helped propel electricity imports into the UK to a brand-new high, peaking at 5,847 MW. It’s likely that we could see further peaks in the future, with the interconnector set to go live on October 1. 

However, it wasn’t just new interconnectors supplying the UK with electricity, as older routes were also seeing increased usage. That includes the interconnector between Great Britain and Ireland, with the current flowing in the opposite direction to usual. 

While Great Britain usually exports power to Ireland, on August 20 at 12:20pm, the power was flowing the other way, with Ireland providing the UK with its surplus. While this was an atypical situation, EnAppSys notes that it is likely that high volumes of British power imports are likely to become the norm in the short-to-medium term as interconnector capacity increases.

Phil Hewitt, director of EnAppSys, commented, “The NSL link will give GB access to cheap and green hydro power from Western Norway. When this link goes live, it’s expected that Norway will export its low-priced hydro energy into Britain almost all of the time. Expect records to be broken again then or at least when full load tests take place in September.

“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.

“At Christmas GB will have 8.4GW of installed cables from other markets, meaning that around 25% of the electricity we need could come from overseas. This increases the likelihood of import volumes hitting new highs in the next few months. It also means that on Christmas Day this year we could be relying on foreign power to cook our turkeys.”

Currently GB imports from the continent are cheaper than home-generated power mainly due to the Carbon Price Support – a domestic top-up tax levied in addition to the UK’s carbon price – which ramps up costs for large electricity generators. The regulatory differences on transmission and balancing charges that embed a price advantage to EU market players are another reason for the cheap imports.

However, in the longer term, EnAppSys said Britain could become a net exporter of power as it increases its reliance on interconnectors. Two new interconnectors to Germany and Denmark, which are currently under construction, will add another 2.8GW of capacity by 2023-24.

Hewitt added, “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.”

EnAppSys data shows that Britain remained Europe’s second biggest net importer in the first half of 2021, recording net imports of 12.3TWh.

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