With its countless thermal springs, geysers and waterfalls, Iceland has long used geothermal and hydroelectric technologies to provide its own energy in a renewable, clean and economical way.
The country’s tiny population of 320,000 uses only about a fifth of the energy generated each day, and so the Icelandic government has big plans to export the surplus and more via a proposed 1,000-mile power cable running along the seabed to the UK. The UK would then act as a hub for at least four other inter-connectors to Denmark, Norway, Ireland and France.
The UK’s Sunday Times newspaper reports that although the concept of plugging into Iceland’s energy plants has been “knocking around for more than half a century”, plans are now looking far more likely to become reality thanks to “newly available green subsidies from the British government, technological advances and the need to replace the legions of coal plants set for closure”.
In order to help realise the plans, top London financier, Edi Truell, has set up the Atlantic Supergrid corporation, and claims to have sufficient backing from a number of large international pension funds to meet the estimated costs of £4 billion. Truell envisages a cable capable of carrying 1.2GW of electricity, enough to power more than 2 million homes.
The cable idea has been through various incarnations, but the latest – named Icelink – entered the frame in 2012 when Conservative MP and then Energy Minister, Charles Hendry, signed a memorandum of understanding for the UK and Iceland to carry out feasibility studies. (The Sunday Times notes that Hendry has since joined the board of Atlantic Supergrid.)
The Icelandic government is enthusiastic about the Icelink plans and will now decide whether to progress the project. If it gets the green light, the next stage would involve detailed studies of the seabed and in-depth talks with Britain regarding subsidies. Importantly, recent UK energy legislation would allow the granting of subsidies for low-carbon projects such as Icelink, even though they are not on Sovereign soil.
Although the UK currently intends to build a major new £16 billion nuclear power plant in Hinkley, Somerset, Truell predicts that Icelink would be a cheaper energy option for households. It could also potentially be in operation sooner, especially in the light of question marks raised over Hinkley by the European Commission last month.
The UK’s National Grid is currently studying plans for the Icelandic power cable. Spokesman for the Grid, Paul Johnson, told the Sunday Times, “If we can get the appropriate regulatory treatment, this is potentially a more cost-effective proposition to the UK economy than other sources of green energy.”