Steps towards a North Atlantic energy network

North Atlantic countries have high renewable energy potential which could be exploited through a North Atlantic electrical grid.
Published: Tue 19 Jul 2016

Some of the best renewable energy sources in the Arctic, Nordic and northern European regions is in isolated energy systems. Is there potential to exploit these through a North Atlantic electrical grid linking Greenland via Iceland, the Faroe Island and Shetland to Norway and on to the larger energy markets of the UK and continental Europe?

That is the question the North Atlantic Energy Network project, comprised of representatives of the respective countries, set out to answer. And while such a network appears unlikely to be practical at present, more data and studies are required to map future opportunities.

North Atlantic interconnectors

Greenland, currently dependent on oil, has big hydropower and solar energy potential. A 1994 study estimated the hydro potential at 470TWh/year. However, neither this nor the solar potential are known in detail and further work is needed to map them. Further, the necessary infrastructure to harvest these power sources has yet to be developed. Thus, coupled with a lack of experience, a cable connection between Greenland and neighbouring countries is not realistic in the near future.

It is technically possible to connect all of the neighbouring countries around Iceland with subsea cables. Iceland now produces about 18TWh of electricity per year and has the potential to double the production from geothermal and hydropower alone. However, there are many aspects that are unclear and need to be investigated further to draw a full picture of the pros and cons of interconnectors from Iceland. The legal and regulatory framework must be in place before a project of this kind can be realized and extensive grid reinforcements are needed to support export through a cable at a single connection point. [Engerati-Iceland – Brand Green Energy]

A 100MW cable between Iceland and the Faroe Islands is possible but might not be economically competitive for that purpose alone. Potentially more feasible is a large cable from Iceland to Scotland that could be laid via the Faroes and Shetland and that could possibly transmit energy from these locations to Scotland and Europe.

Both the Faroe Islands and Shetland, both heavily dependent on oil for their energy supplies, have offshore wind conditions on land. A probable synergy effect could be to transmit hydropower from Iceland in summer and wind power from the Faroes and Shetland in winter.

An interconnector between Shetland and UK has been in process for over a decade and is the main focus for exporting wind power from the Viking Energy wind farm. The wind farm has planning consent and would be built if the Shetland to UK grid connection is approved. However, the submission of Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission’s (SHE-T) needs case for developing the 600MW connection is currently on hold due to uncertainty on issues such as eligibility for Contracts for Difference (CfD) in forthcoming auctions. If circumstances allow, the needs case could be submitted to Ofgem later in the year.

The final step of the grid from Shetland to Norway, effectively linking North Atlantic and North Seas grids, has the potential for localized introduction of electricity from renewable resources for both Shetland and oil platforms along the cable route. [Engerati-North Seas Grid – Call To Action and The North Sea – Gas and wind talk synergies] However, the economic benefit seems reduced with respect to Norwegian interest, principally due to the new HVDC NSN subsea interconnector to Great Britain to be finished in 2021. [Engerati-UK Proposes Three New Continental Interconnectors]

North Atlantic energy network next steps

According to the NAEN report, the project has allowed informative exchange of knowledge between the participating regions and organisations.

To decide upon the financial feasibility of a network of this kind and its connection to Europe through Norway is a very complicated task. Interconnection cables for island systems are expensive and will have lasting effects both on production of electricity and prices. Technologically it is possible to lay the sea cables to create a North Atlantic electrical grid but there are many risk factors that need to be considered. These include the economic risks involved in the installation and operational cost of the interconnectors and market prices for electricity.

The countries behind the project could benefit from integrated future cooperation regarding exporting energy and knowledge in this field. A platform to develop this cooperation and mapping the possibilities for future development in this area could be beneficial for all of Europe.

Further reading

North Atlantic Energy Network report