Q1 2021: IFA2 goes online

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Dr Iain Staffell, Professor Richard Green, Professor Tim Green and Dr Malte Jansen — Imperial College London

A new power link between the UK and France went online in January, meaning Britain’s interconnector capacity has doubled over the last decade to 6 GW.

IFA2 is one of Britain’s two undersea connection to France, coming some 60 years after the first link was built, and 35 years after that was replaced by IFA (which still operates today).  The £700m IFA2 project, jointly owned by National Grid and RTE (their French equivalent), spans 130 miles under the English Channel to connect Portsmouth with Caen in Normandy.

After some early teething troubles, the new link has imported 20 times more power than it exported since it went into operation on January 22nd.  Imports of electricity to Britain rose to new record levels, although they could have been higher still.  

Despite very good historical reliability, the BritNed cable between Britain and the Netherlands was out of action for most of the quarter: from mid-December through to mid-February, and again since mid-March.  As a result, Dutch imports were down 60% and exports down 90% compared to the first quarter last year. Cable faults are responsible for both outages, being found on 8th December last year (and taking three months to repair) and again on 9th March this year (with an estimated two months to repair).

There were initial reports that the end of the Brexit transition period led to reduced trade over the interconnectors to Ireland at the start of this year, sending power prices rocketing. The UK left Europe’s Internal Energy Market on 31st December 2020, which increased friction for trading.  However, it appears this was only a short-term blip –– trade fell by 40% between December 2020 and January 2021, but then recovered completely in February.  Over the first quarter of this year, trade with the Irish power market was 1% higher than the average during 2019–20.  

Work on a third interconnector to France will begin later this year, and links to Norway and Denmark are currently under construction. These will begin to be shown on the Electric Insights webpage in the coming months.  With these and the return of the Dutch interconnector to service, Britain is set to source an increasing share of its power from abroad in the coming years.

Installed capacity of interconnectors in Great Britain over the last two decades
Daily trade over the Britned interconnector during the past six months

Live Grid Data