Iceland's volcano may power the UK

The abundance of geothermal energy from Iceland may power the UK, through the largest web of cable interconnectors in the world.
Written by Ina Muri, Weekend Editor

The volcanoes of Iceland could soon be pumping low-carbon electricity into the UK, The Guardian reports.

The plans of thousands of miles of high-voltage cables across the ocean floor is in the works, and Clarles Hendry, the UK's energy minister, is visiting Iceland in May to discuss how to connect the UK to its abundant geothermal energy. But to reach Iceland, which sits over a mid-ocean split into the earth's crust, the cable would have to be 650 to 950 miles long--by far the longest in the world.

The web of sea-floor cables, also called interconnectors, that is planned for the next decade would link the UK to a Europe-wide supergrid. This supergrid would combine the wind and wave power of northern Europe with solar projects such as Desertec in southern Europe and north Africa to deliver reliable, clean energy to meet climate change targets and reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports.

The UK has been energy independent for almost its entire history. But with the North Sea's oil and gas failing and coal banned as too polluting, Hendry is frank about the future: " We will be dependent on imported energy." The cables are an "absolutely critical part of energy security and for low carbon energy," he said.

The government's legally binding targets to reduce carbon emission is another key driver for the new interconnections, which if it is built could supply a third of ht nation's average electricity demand. Renewable energy, such as the offshore wind power at the heart of the government's renewable plans, is zero carbon once built but is also intermitten which means that back-up gas plants or energy storage are needed.

Interconnector cables can be laid very rapidly--over 18 miles a day-- but still remains a significant engineering project with each mile containing 800 tons of copper. The most time-consuming aspect is settling international agreements and preparing landing sites and pylons to handle and distribute a large amount of electricity. "It's like taking a large nuclear power station offshore," Hendry said.

Interconnectors require large investments. The Britain-Netherlands interconnector that opened in 2011 was the first international link in 25 years and cost 500 million pounds ( approximately 800 million dollars.) But Greenpeace's Dough Parr said that interconnectros ar the cheapest way of backing up wind because you avoid the greater capital cost of building power stations.

Hendry argued that a web of high-voltage cables ending the energy isolation of the British Isles will help keeping household energy bill down by allowing access to the cheapest energy at any particular time.

For more on geothermal energy on Iceland, go to Iceland Cometh

[Via The Guardian]

Photo courtesy: Alamy

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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