Dartmoor would be a better choice than the desert if you had to construct a massive new solar farm.
Although many have dreamed about the potential of desert sunlight, one challenge has been the export of that electricity.
Xlinks is an energy startup that claims it has the solution with the longest underwater power cable in the world.
The total length of the four cables is 3,800km/2,360 miles. They will run from the solar and wind farms in Morocco to Alverdiscott in Devon.
Simon Morrish, chief executive of the company insists that it is possible. He hopes that the company will have it up and running before the end the decade.
If all goes as planned, Xlinks’ cable would provide 3.6 gigawatts electricity. This is enough power to supply seven million homes with power for twenty hours a days. It will connect to several lines similar (but shorter) that run from the UK’s power grid to neighboring countries.
In the next few years, energy companies plan to build more sub-sea cables. How do you install them?
Are these cables going to be reliable energy sources in the future, with the UK and France having their one-way connection recently cut off by a fire?
Morrish, speaking of the UK, said that there is “so much capacity coming off the grid in five to ten years.”
There are times when a country has a surplus of renewable energy while another nation suffers from a lack. Although it is difficult to store electricity, particularly long-term, it is possible to transfer it to your neighbor via cable.
However, no one has built an under-sea cable infrastructure to the same scale as Xlinks. A small trench in the seafloor is usually prepared to accommodate cables such as this. Sometimes, these cables are buried beneath concrete or rock.
Cable will travel 700m below the sea level at its deepest point, thereby reducing damage by anchors or fishing gear. Although it isn’t the most direct route to Britain, the technical difficulties are the greatest. He adds that it will remain below the surface for the entire journey.
Although there will be 13% energy loss, Xlinks claims that the cost of generating electricity in Morocco is low enough to make the project viable.
Behzad Kasemtabrizi from Durham University says that the technology needed to run cables this long is available. Some of her work is funded by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult.
He claims he does not know of any other similar project on such an ambitious scale.
Connecting the cable to assets on either side of the asset might prove the trickiest. Dr Kazemtabrizi explains how Xlinks must carefully select the equipment needed to handle its high-voltage direct current cables. This will ensure that there are no efficiency loss.
To ensure that the Moroccan site has sufficient sunshine, Xlinks will also conduct an “extremely detailed resource study”. Xlinks states that its satellite-based assessment has been completed and that it will soon conduct a detailed study with meteorological stations on site.
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Heriot-Watt University Professor David Flynn says that the “boom period” for the sub-sea power cable business is upon us. This is partly due to increased spending on renewables by different governments during the pandemic. It was done in an effort to increase job growth and reduce carbonisation.
These power lines not only serve countries that want to connect their grids, but also support offshore wind farms.
North Sea Link is currently the longest sub-sea power line in the world, at 1.4 gigawatt. It is less than a fifth the length required for Xlinks at 720km. North Sea Link faced some challenges at its Norwegian terminus, with a steep mountain, and a steep fjord.
Caroline Opiyo -Mullings is National Grid’s project control manager. She says that the seabed plunges up to 600m from the Norwegian coast. Some parts are higher than you can ski jump.
She explains that installing any sub-sea power cable requires great care because they can only bend so far before becoming damaged. In favourable weather, the cables should be gently brought into their final position.
There are many other pipelines and cables that run along the seafloor. They can’t be dragged over by power cables without their permission. Sometimes, special structures are required to permit cables to cross each other. North Sea Link needed to make nearly 100 crossings from Norway to the UK.
Viking Link is the next sub-sea cable that will link Britain to Denmark. It will run 760km longer than North Sea Link. However, a significant portion, approximately 140 km, of the cable will cross land in either the UK or Denmark. It is possible to bore small tunnels under road and infrastructure.
Prof Flynn suggests that we need to be very cautious regarding the spread of sub-sea cables. There could be adverse environmental effects from increasing the activity at seabed.
Recent research has shown that brown crabs are attracted to undersea cables of electricity off the Scottish coast. This could have negative effects on their reproduction and food foraging.
What if several cables are damaged by debris or anchors on the seabed, and multiple cable get entangled? Oder worse, an enemy decides to destroy them.
Prof Flynn says, “It is something I have discussed with the MoD in Britain as well as with other agencies dealing with our critical infrastructure.”
National Grid spokeswoman said: “We take into account security risks and we implement safety measures beginning with design and construction. The details of these measures are not disclosed by us.
Xlinks says that the UK needs to diversify its supply chains after the latest interconnector explosion.
Although the company admits that its power generation project won’t be risk-free like other projects, it says “but we use the most recent, proven, and tested technology to minimize risk and reliably supply a complementing source of energy for the British grid by the middle of the next decade.”
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