By Kari Williamson
Although the cost of developing such a grid would be very high, it could bring a host of benefits such as tens of thousands of new jobs in the offshore renewable energy industry and allowing the UK to become a net exporter of energy.
It would also deliver a 25% capital cost saving on connecting each offshore wind or marine farm compared to connecting site individually.
Tim Yeo, Chair of the ECCC, says: "The UK’s electricity system is the least interconnected of all European Countries – but we also have vast offshore resources of renewable energy. In fact, we potentially have enough wind, wave and tidal energy to more than match our North Sea oil and gas production and transform the country from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter.
“If we continue developing these renewable resources site-by-site it could be prohibitively expensive with large individual connections for each power plant. Developing an integrated and interconnected offshore network would allow us to tap these huge resources cost-efficiently and prepare the ground for a future European Supergrid – if it is necessary and feasible in future."
An offshore network could also provide vital support to the UK's ageing onshore grid.
With an expected development of 80-280 offshore wind farms to be constructed in the North Sea over the next 20 years, the cost and size of the assets would be prohibitive if single connections for each project were used.
The ECCC believes offshore connections need more coordination from Government if the UK is to achieve its ambitious plans for offshore wind.
Yeo adds: "At the moment, we are paying some generators to switch off because we haven't got the wires to deliver electricity from where it is produced to where it is needed. An offshore grid can relieve some of this pressure.
“Offshore networks can deliver electricity where it's needed without adding to the advancing army of pylons that’s marching its way across our countryside.
“If we connect our offshore wind farms one by one then we'll see scores of landing points, each twice the size of a football pitch. The Government needs to help industry to cooperate and share their networks.
The UK's offshore renewables are too valuable to be left to the Government’s hands-off approach on transmission."
In response to the report, Eddie O’Connor, President of the Friends of the Supergrid and CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power, says: “The Committee is right to recognise the long term benefits to the UK of making Supergrid a reality. Their support builds on the endorsement of Supergrid by the Prime Minister earlier this year.”
He adds: “Point to point interconnection schemes will provide fewer benefits to the UK grid and to consumers than a meshed interconnected network, as the Committee rightly points out. Developing an interconnected network with its neighbours will enable the UK to provide secure, decarbonised and competitively priced electricity without the additional onshore works associated with storage, grid enhancement and balancing and reserve requirements.”
“Crucially, without the development of Supergrid’s first phase, the UK will not be able to connect sufficient sources of offshore generation to the national grid in time to meet the country’s binding 2020 Renewable Energy targets.”