EuropaGrid: has Europe’s dream of an integrated
grid come true?
May, 2009 - Tim Probert - Power
In January, privately owned Irish firm Imera Power
went public with plans to build EuropaGrid – a
€4.4 billion pan-European electricity grid project
to develop a more truly integrated network with greater
security of supply. Unusually for grid interconnector
schemes, the money will be raised almost entirely
from private sources. Tim Probert finds out more.
|The EuropaGrid is intended to
become part of a pan-European supergrid.
Matters are coming to a head. The European Union
(EU) says there is an urgent requirement for both
a single electricity market and increased renewable
energy production. The European Commission’s Third
Energy Package went into greater specifics – it wants
to see the “development of a blueprint for a North
Sea offshore grid, interconnecting national electricity
grids and plugging in planned offshore wind projects”.
The Commission has not had to wait long. In January,
Irish firm Imera announced its plans to build EuropaGrid
– a €4.4 billion ($6 billion) project that will develop
North Sea and Atlantic electricity grids connecting
key markets and offshore wind farms, which the ambitious
company believes will be the foundation for a pan-European
offshore electricity network.
Imera is an asset investment company specializing
in the development of subsea power interconnectors
and power transmission grids. Its founder, and now
president and CEO, is Rory O’Neill, a former executive
of Irish gas utility Bord Gáis, is heavily involved
with the deregulation of the Irish energy sector.
Since December 2007, Norwegian subsea cable layer
Oceanteam ASA has owned 70 per cent of Imera Power,
after it merged its Hydragrid business with Imera.
Oceanteam Power & Umbilical is the preferred supplier
of the subsea preparatory and cable laying work.
At present, Imera holds five licenses and is actively
developing interconnectors between Ireland and the
UK (East West I + II), France and the UK, and Belgium
and the UK (BelBrit). These projects form the foundation
The Imera EuropaGrid project will comprise of two
networks. EuropaGrid North Sea will connect Scandinavia,
Western Europe and the UK. The first phase represents
an investment of €2.76 billion.
EuropaGrid Atlantic will connect the UK, Ireland,
France and Spain. The first phase, East West 1 – a
350 MW capacity DC line between the Arklow 220 kV
substation in the Republic of Ireland and the Pentir
400 kV substation in North Wales, UK – has been approved
by the EU, is ready to go once the financial close
has been achieved and is on schedule for delivery
O’Neill said: “Because we are a private company,
we can build networks faster and cheaper than most
regulated organizations. We also have access to the
largest fleet of specialized cable-laying vessels
and marine engineering expertise through our parent
In January 2009, the EU reaffirmed its commitment
to the development of interconnection and offshore
wind projects with a stimulus plan of €500 million
of offshore wind and €705 million for electricity
interconnector projects. O’Neill says that Imera does
not face time or technology barriers compared with
competitors and can complete projects within the three-year
deadline for interconnector schemes set as part of
the EU’s €5 billion stimulus package.
However, Imera does face some barriers with regards
to funding. Whereas previous European interconnectors
have mostly been built by state-owned/controlled transmission
system operators (TSOs), Imera Power is a private
concern, and most of the funding is being raised from
private equity, with very little governmental support,
despite an expected €100 million from the Irish government
via the EU stimulus package.
The money is expected to come from infrastructure
funds, banks and grant aid. Grace Samodal, commercial
director of Imera Power, is confident that the Irish
firm can raise the necessary finance for the various
schemes. She says: “Despite the recession, infrastructure
investment is still strong.
“The energy industry is being supported by governments,
and although some pre-credit crunch sources of funding
are a little more risk averse, the same kinds of sources
are still interested in investing in power infrastructure.”
Imera Power also has a UK-France transmission project
lined up: an 800 MW interconnector running from Meneuil
in Normandy, northern France to Lovedean in Hampshire,
southern England, which will increase the existing
cross border capacity by 40 per cent once operational
Imera Power has partnered with ABB to provide the
technological support for its current interconnector
projects. ABB’s scope of work includes the design,
project management, manufacture, works testing, shipping,
installation, site testing and commissioning of a
complete HVDC light transmission link consisting of
the converter stations and associated substation works
at each end.
High-voltage direct current (HVDC) light is an environmentally
benign technology for modern electrical power transmission
systems. HVDC light cables are buried underground
and underwater and are therefore invisible.
Imera says the cables emit negligible amounts of
electromagnetic fields (EMFs), so there are no health
issues. HVDC light cables are made using a strong
polymeric insulation material and contain no oil.
Overall, the cables provide a minimal impact alternative
for large-scale electrical power transmission.
|Click here to enlarge image
Imera Power has partnered with ABB for EuropaGrid.
The equipment chosen is HVDC Light technology.
The converter stations use state-of-the-art semiconductor
technology to deliver highly flexible, reliable and
maintainable electrical power transmission. Virtually
all components, with the exception of transformers
and heat exchangers, are enclosed in a building that
can be designed to be visually compatible with the
Imera uses a technology called HVDC VSC (voltage
source converter), extruded polymer underground cables.
The system comprises two (or more) converter stations
at the ends of the transmission and an underground
or submarine cable link between them. Standardized
designs with compact, factory assembled, pre-tested
transportable modules allow for delivery times as
short as 12 months. Converter stations are virtually
Speed is the name of the game
Samodal says Imera Power can build interconnectors
much faster than TSOs, which have had little incentive
to reduce costs and the build time, which she says
has averaged at 14 years. “We’re much faster,” says
Samodal “We look to build interconnectors in three
Imera Power’s first project is the East West 1 direct
current (DC) line with an interconnection capacity
of 350 MW between the Arklow 220 kV substation in
the Republic of Ireland and the Pentir 400 kV substation
in North Wales. The total length of the link will
be approximately 135 km, and it will be laid under
the seabed across the Irish Sea.
The project is currently in the design and engineering
stages and seeking planning permission. A decision
on the project would rest with the Irish government
and the Irish regulator. The project is currently
on schedule for commissioning in 2010.
Imera says the link would allow Irish-based suppliers
to access the UK wholesale market to competitively
procure power and increase competition in the Irish
market, while enabling UK generators and suppliers
to supply customers in Ireland without the need for
them to commit to large capital investment in Ireland
As the Imera Power East West Interconnector, development
is funded by the private sector and is a market-based
solution, the costs of the project will not be recovered
by increasing use of regulated system tariffs for
all end users in the UK or Ireland, but rather by
the users of the cable, large wholesale energy traders.
To ensure a return on its hefty investment, Imera
Power is seeking a 25-year exemption from EU regulation
to own and operate an electricity interconnector.
Samodal likens ownership of capacity rights on Imera’s
interconnectors to mobile phone tariffs. Traditionally,
users of electricity interconnectors would do so on
a pay-as-you-go basis, paying the owner of the interconnector,
National Grid/Réseau de Transport d’Electricité (RTE)
for the UK-France link, for transaction on a short-term
basis. With Imera’s independent East West Interconnector,
utilities, TSOs and trading companies will be able
to purchase longer-term contracts or ‘season tickets’
for access to the link. Access agreements would be
sold on a minimum ten-year basis, with users subject
to a maximum megawatt usage limit.
EXEMPT FROM REGULATION
As it would be exempt from EU regulation, Imera Power
would not be allowed to pass on its costs to the electricity
end user. Therefore it would not be subject to price
caps or price falls and would take the full upside
and downside risks of power prices. With electricity
prices expected to rise in the long term, Imera believes
it has a strong business model that will attract investors.
EuropaGrid North Sea, which will connect Scandinavia,
Western Europe and the UK, is set to offer another
key element of a European electricity ‘supergrid’
– grid access for offshore power generation. Samodal
says EuropaGrid North Sea would increase the efficiency
of offshore wind farms. “The wind is always blowing
EuropaGrid North Sea would always give wind energy
a place to go.” It is hoped that, once complete, EuropaGrid
North Sea would ultimately link up with NordPool,
the single electricity market for Norway, Sweden,
Denmark and Finland, making for a secure, open power
market across western and northern Europe.
Power Engineering International May, 2009