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Ambitious Icelandic wind project aims to export power to UK grid
Uncorrelated output from North Atlantic would diversify UK’s existing wind generation profile, but the project is a step-up in industry ambition
The UK could start importing vast volumes of offshore wind power from Iceland via dedicated long-distance subsea cables, just in time to replace the last retiring coal-fired power stations. That’s the vision of Anglo-American joint venture wind developer Hecate Independent Power, which has unveiled a highly ambitious plan for 10 GW of fixed and floating wind turbines in the Icelandic portion of the North Atlantic.
The HIP Atlantic Project would utilise long-length, high-capacity, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) submarine power transmission cables. These would be manufactured at a £200 million bespoke power cable plant to be built at a port in the north-east of England.
HIP has lodged four connection applications with National Grid for an initial 4,000 MW of grid connections to the UK’s 400 kV electricity transmission system across four connection sites.
Each wind farm – or “pod” – will consist of 1 GW of wind capacity, located in a different North Atlantic location, and connected to the UK power grid via its own dedicated cable.
“Full dispatch of the HIP offshore wind pods will be under the exclusive control of the United Kingdom electricity system operator making HIP Atlantic Britain's first captive wind farm in overseas territorial waters,” HIP said in a statement.
The HIP Atlantic HVDC transmission cables will never connect to the Icelandic transmission system: the high availability wind capacity will be solely connected to the UK, dispatched by National Grid.
HIP intends to install offshore wind pods in different meteorological catchment areas from current North Sea and Irish Sea wind farms. This allows HIP to supply its renewable electricity at times when existing British wind farms are becalmed.
“This diversity of wind source provides a geographical portfolio effect to protect the UK transmission grid from too much offshore wind capacity installed in just one region,” HIP said.
HIP Atlantic's initial 2,000 MW of generation capacity, targeted off the southern and eastern coasts of Iceland, is expected to be commissioned in early 2025 to coincide with the decommissioning of the last UK coal-fired power plants and the last of the country’s original generation of commercial nuclear power plants.
HIP – a joint venture between North American renewable energy developer Hecate Wind and Britain’s Independent Power Corporation – is busy talking up the benefits of the project to officials in both Iceland and the UK.
HIP Atlantic “aims to create more long term, high value jobs across the United Kingdom than any previous wind farm connected to the National Grid. The initial 2,000 MW capacity alone will result in some 15,000 new jobs in the United Kingdom,” it claims.
Iceland will also be a “significant beneficiary”, although these are notably less than the UK portion. The first 2,000 MW pilot phase will see £2.9 million invested in Iceland in 2021, rising to an additional £144 million through 2025. “Up to 500 new jobs located in southern and eastern Iceland are associated with just the 2,000 MW pilot phase,” HIP said.
The HIP proposal will require some form of state support. Non-UK projects exporting exclusively into the country are believed to be eligible under the government’s Contract for Difference support framework for offshore wind.
To help ensure the project receives regulatory support, the joint venture has hired Margaret Thatcher’s former energy minister Sir Tony Baldry to chair the enterprise. Speaking in London, Baldry said:
“HIP Atlantic fulfils the Prime Minister's vision of attracting investment and job creation in the North of England as part of this country's ambitious policy to make Britain the world leader in offshore wind energy. We will stretch the zone of British-operated wind generation outside of our traditional territorial waters, pushing the boundaries of existing cable technology to generate over 1,000 kms from our grid landfall points throughout England.”
The Energy Flux view:
Nothing quite like this has ever been proposed, even in the UK’s world leading offshore wind sector. The country has a target to hit 40 GW of offshore wind by 2030, which is just about achievable but at risk of permitting and supply chain constraints.
Outsourcing offshore wind development into Icelandic territory does not necessarily avoid those bottlenecks, because the turbines for HIP Atlantic would be installed from British ports by the same pool of offshore workers as those located in UK waters.
There are also technical challenges. The Dogger Bank offshore wind farm is the furthest from shore, at up to 190 km from landfall in the north-east coast of England at its nearest point. HIP is proposing cables that are more than five times that length.
This also brings logistical challenges. Transiting UK-based workers every day from shore to the construction site is just about feasible for Dogger Bank. HIP Atlantic will necessitate worker accommodation in Iceland and dedicated operations and maintenance vessels based there to keep the blades spinning.
None of this is to say it can’t be done — and the UK’s offshore wind industry is now coming of age as it takes on larger projects further from shore. HIP Atlantic pushes the boat out a bit further, which means it will need the best minds and hands in the industry to make it a reality.