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Britain hits power imports record

Britain has set a new record for electricity imports underlining the growing importance of interconnectors to the country’s power mix.

At 12.20pm on August 20, net interconnector imports into Britain reached an instantaneous high of 5,847MW, according to new data from energy market analyst EnAppSys.

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The record was set because the Irish market, which usually takes power imports from GB, was in this case exporting electricity to GB. In addition, the new NSL link to Norway was running a test to send power to GB ahead of its commercial go-live date of October 1.

Image credit: EnAppSys

EnAppSys said it was likely that high volumes of British power imports were likely to become the norm in the short-to-medium term as interconnector capacity increases.

Phil Hewitt, director of EnAppSys, said: “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!”

Image credit: EnAppSys

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.

Phil Hewitt said: “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.