Interconnector trading electricity successfully between Ireland and UK, as system gets revamp

9 Jul 2013

John Fitzgerald, EirGrid director, with Eddie Gough, general manager, ABB Power Systems. Photo via Maxwells

Ireland’s first electricity link with Britain, dubbed the East-West Interconnector, has been handed back over to the Irish State-owned energy company EirGrid after system testing. Swiss/Swedish firm ABB, the contractor for the some €571m engineering project, has carried out a series of upgrades to wipe out telecommunications noise interference for households in proximity of the cable in north Co Dublin.

The interconnector has been trading electricity between Ireland and the UK since the energy link went live last September.

At the time, Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, officially opened the interconnector at a site in Batterstown, Co Meath. EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger was also at the opening of the interconnector.

EirGrid confirmed this morning that the State-owned company took formal acceptance of the East-West Interconnector from contractor ABB last Friday following a series of “successful” system tests.

An EirGrid spokesperson said that, since the interconnector started trading electricity in September, the company and ABB discovered that the land route of the cable had been causing some “noise interference” for certain areas, especially in north Co Dublin, when people were using their telephones.

This problem appears to have now been fixed, however.

ABB carried out a series of system tests and the interconnector is now operating at an optimal level without complications, EirGrid claims. That’s why the company took full ownership of the interconnector last Friday once it was happy that things were running smoothly and not impacting on people living close to the cable in terms of telephone noise pollution.

How is the interconnector performing?

Fintan Slye, chief executive of EirGrid, said he is “delighted” with the performance of the interconnector.

“It has been operating very well and is fully booked commercially, putting downward pressure on electricity prices,” he said.

There is a lot of electricity being traded on the interconnector at the moment, according to EirGrid. The company carries out rolling capacity auctions with utilities, especially those with wind-farm operations, to bid to trade energy between the Irish and British electricity markets.

It goes both ways. Sometimes, in Ireland’s case, a lot of wind might be blowing, resulting in a lot of renewable energy being harnessed by wind farms around the island. On such a day, Ireland may not have the need to use all of the electricity generated and would look to export it to the UK.

On the other hand, some days the excess conventional electricity in the UK might be cheaper than that of the plants producing electricity in Ireland, so the country will import it from the UK. This is all intertwined with the markets.

The interconnector has the capacity to transport 500 megawatts of electricity – enough energy to power 300,000 homes.

According to the Bord Gáis Energy Index for May, the interconnector contributed to wholesale electricity price reductions in Ireland for that month.

How it all started

EirGrid kicked off the East-West Interconnector project in 2010 as part of its Grid25 project to upgrade Ireland’s energy infrastructure.

The goal was to move towards a smarter, cleaner electricity grid that could integrate renewables, namely wind energy, and help Ireland achieve security of electricity supply.

Another aim of the interconnector was to spur on the trading of excess electricity between Ireland and the UK, especially in terms of wind energy.

The East-West Interconnector project involved the laying down of underground and undersea cables running for 260km.

The undersea link was laid under the seabed at North Beach, Rush, Co Dublin, to Barkby Beach in Prestatyn, North Wales. Overground cables then link to converter stations in Woodland, Co Meath, and in Deeside, North Wales.

Back in 2010, the Government had estimated the cost for the interconnector would be €601m. When the interconnector went live last September, it came in at some €30m under the original budget forecast. The development of the interconnector also received a grant worth €110m from the European Union.

European electricity infrastructure

Also at EirGrid, Ann Scully, an executive director at the company, has been elected to the board of ENTSO-E, the European network of transmission system operators for electricity.

ENTSO-E is preparing regulations that will set the rules for all players in the European electricity sector for the coming decades. It is also identifying the future needs for European electricity infrastructure.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic