The U.K.’s electricity supply is becoming increasingly reliant upon a series of umbilical cables to the continent called interconnectors. We have cables stretching to France, Belgium and other countries. Last month, a new £1.7bn 475-mile interconnector to Denmark was brought into operation.
The 475-mile cable is the longest land and subsea electricity cable in the world and will provide cleaner, cheaper more secure energy to power up to 2.5 million homes in the U.K.
It will help British families save £500 million on their bills over the next decade, while cutting emissions.
A deep dive into the National Grid interconnector data, however, shows the claims of cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy do not stand up to scrutiny.
They do not make it cleaner. The problem here is that the energy we import during periods of high demand is likely to be ‘dirty’ energy from diesel engines and coal-fired power stations, while the energy we export in times of lower demand is more likely to be ‘clean’ energy from wind and solar.
Second, it is crystal clear that interconnectors do not provide cheaper energy. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The data show that interconnectors have helped us to perfect the art of buying high and selling low. The price we pay for imports is consistently above the market price and the price we get for exports is significantly below market rates; we even frequently pay others to take surplus power off our hands (known as negative prices). In what world does it make economic sense for consumers to pay elevated subsidies to generate wind and solar power, and then pay people overseas to take the same power off our hands?
The security claim is more nuanced. In a narrow sense, the interconnectors do provide some security, because even though at times we pay excessive prices for electricity, the interconnectors have allowed us to keep the lights on. However, we are in this position because people like Alok Sharma gleefully blew up coal-fired power stations, so destroying our domestic dispatchable capacity. This means we are now dependent upon the kindness of strangers in Europe to keep the lights on. As other European countries continue down the path to Net Zero, destroying dispatchable sources (like Germany’s nuclear power plants) and installing more intermittent sources of energy, we may not be able to rely upon this kindness. Indeed, it is likely that Europe-wide electricity surpluses and deficits will synchronise as a result of seasonal and time-of-day related factors, meaning that there will be more times when we pay others to take our surplus power and we will pay extremely high prices more frequently when demand is high and renewables generation is low. Overall, this is clearly not a position of security, it is a position of weakness and insecurity.
Moreover, it is also clear from the data that we are a price-taker, not a price-maker in the market. This is because we do not have sufficient dispatchable capacity to meet demand. Again, this is a position of insecurity, not strength.
The detailed analysis below demonstrates clearly that Coutinho’s claims are bogus.