We’ve already found out about things called interconnectors – cables that connect countries and enable electricity to be passed between them safely and reliably to help even out demand and supply. But what if these interconnectors could do much more than that?
Normally, interconnectors join just one person with another – like the North Sea Link – a 720 kilometre cable that links the UK with Norway. But engineers are developing multi-purpose interconnectors that can connect several people at the same time.
The UK has significant wind power capability, with windmills both on land across the country and offshore, especially in the North Sea. At the moment, these offshore wind farms work side by side with individual interconnectors that can carry a maximum amount of electricity into the grid.
But as we know with wind, it doesn’t always blow… and sometimes it can blow a gale and if there isn’t sufficient capacity, well – some of that wind power will be wasted. It just can’t be carried to the grid. To make sure this doesn’t happen, engineers design in excess capacity, which most of the time isn’t used.
By making some clever changes, clusters of offshore wind farms could connect together using multi-purpose interconnectors and become ‘energy islands’ connecting with different countries’ national electricity grids.
This means that smaller connectors could be used – with less unused capacity, but by using several different connectors, no electricity is wasted.
This technology should mean that we generate more electricity from our offshore wind from the same number of windmills that we have – perhaps up to 25 times more electricity.
Another benefit of multi-purpose interconnectors is that they will reduce environmental impacts on coastal communities. With fewer individual connections, they’ll be less construction needed and less materials used.
Sharing assets and clusters of connections will also significantly reduce costs, which will have a benefit to everybody’s pockets.
The great thing is that because wind farms and interconnectors already exist, changes can be made quite quickly.