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Supergrid needed to end UK’s electricity isolation, say MPs | Damian Carrington

An offshore grid would cut the costs of wind power, reduce pylon building on land and pave the way for a European supergrid

More European integration? Not something the UK’s Conservative-led coalition would warm to, you might think. But sitting between ambitious targets for offshore wind power and rising home energy bills, they may have to.

“The UK is virtually an electricity island,” states a new report from MPs. They demand that the government ends its “laissez-faire approach to offshore transmission” by developing a coordinated power grid in the North Sea that could plug into a future European supergrid.

The supergrid is popular with greens as it would allow wind, solar and other low carbon power, needed to tackle climate change, to be delivered to where it was needed or could be stored. That overcomes issues of intermittency and cuts the need for costly standby power plants to fill any gaps.

It’s popular with the MPs on the House of Commons’ energy and climate change committee, who wrote the report, because it would help ensure the UK’s “big gamble” on offshore wind pays off.

First, an offshore grid in UK waters would significantly cut the cost of connecting each new wind farm or marine energy project to the mainland. Second, such a grid would cut the impact of new transmission kit on land. “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,” said Tim Yeo MP, the committee chairman.

Third, said Yeo: “At the moment, we are paying some [wind] generators to switch off because we haven’t got the wires to deliver the electricity. An offshore grid can relieve some of this pressure.”

“We have vast offshore resources of renewable energy,” he said. “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.” There’s potentially tens of thousands of jobs in it too, he said.

So, a UK offshore grid would help deliver low carbon, more secure energy at less cost than without it: the energy trilemma tackled. The government “must” move quickly on this, the MPs say, and given that Prime Minister David Cameron is already keen on the concept, maybe it will.

The report is much more cautious about a European supergrid: “We believe that the cost of creating a European supergrid will be very high indeed. We also recognise that reaching international agreement about the necessary regulatory and market frameworks will be extremely difficult.”

Nonetheless, the report continues: “There is a strong case for working quickly to achieve much more interconnection and integration of offshore networks, the building blocks of a supergrid.”

If you want to think really big and long term, imagine a supergrid that reaches north Africa and the vast sunny deserts there. A dream? Perhaps, although some serious players are working on it. And when did anything great start with anything else? © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds