Big projects and energy transition

Last Thursday, the Nordlink submarine cable for heavy current between Germany and Norway was officially handed over to its destination. Meanwhile, the Celtic Interconnector between the Republic of Ireland and Brittany is still in the planning phase. According to the operators and designers, both cables are intended to ensure greater security of supply and better distribution of electricity and to help avoid peak loads or surpluses. According to the operators of Nordlink, "this should be in favor of consumers". Fundamental questions remain unanswered about this project, which is to be financed with 500 million euros, about half of it by the EU.

The state-owned Irish grid operator Eirgrid and its French counterpart RTE are involved in the Celtic Interconnector. These companies are planning the construction and would also operate the cable, which should have a capacity of 700 MW, after completion. On the website of Eirgrid you can find their information about the cable.

in 2009, a feasibility study was carried out to connect the electricity grid of the island of Ireland with its neighbours Great Britain and France. The connection with Brittany, which was not yet called Celtic Interconnector at the time, was one of several options in the study.

Eirgrid now has a whole page with documents about the interconnector. There you will find detailed maps of the planned landing points and how the substations are to be realized, but a detailed cost-Benefit analysis is not found. And this suggests that this was either never done, or that one did not want to publish the results. Of course, this is only a guess, but the fact that the inquiries I have received in this regard from a resident of the planned route have not been answered also fits into this picture.

Nevertheless, the planning really started afterwards and a few million euros have now flowed into these plans. This led to a variety of proposals on how to implement the route. Meanwhile, Claycastle, two kilometres south of the village of Youghal in the east of County Cork, has emerged as the point where the cable should come back to land after 500 km under the sea. Here it is believed to have found good conditions, since it is not the rocky coast prevailing in the area, but a wide river plain with alluvial soil and thus the cable is relatively easy to bring under the ground.

The first kilometres of the route run through a bog designated as a bird sanctuary. This is probably cheaper than having to compensate dairy farmers for their pastures. After that, the route of the national road N25 should follow, which would have to be excavated for this.

Around two villages, the planning is not quite so clear. A converter station is also needed, in which the direct current of the submarine cable is converted into alternating current. From there, the alternating current is to be fed into the Irish grid after a few more underground kilometers in Knockraha.

An official building application for this work has not yet been submitted.

There were also various hearings, which mostly dealt with questions of local construction management and nature conservation, and whether the management poses a risk of electrosmog. Questions about the economic meaning of the overall project were not addressed in the webinar.

What I also noticed was the present form that all planners used at the webinar. Throughout, phrases such as: "then we dig", "then we restore it"were heard. In English, where one has to pay great attention to the respective tense, this omission of futur or conditional sounded very strange, as if the realization of the project was already a foregone conclusion and the not even submitted building application was only a formality. Of course, planning, projecting and creating studies can also be used to spend and earn money.

Large Projects and the energy transition

Now curious, I went to Youghal, where a local expert showed me the details during a longer beach walk. The beach is almost 5 km long and in some places so wide that it almost looks like a wadden landscape .

The first thing you notice are the currently orphaned shops and restaurants on the promenade, which continues after a few hundred meters of concrete and asphalt as a 1.7 km long, elevated path made of tropical wood. The stairs leading up at regular intervals are also made of this wood.

Large Projects and the energy transition

According to information on site, it is certified as harmless bongossi wood, but one wonders with the sheer amount, whether the builders have dealt with the question of rainforest protection or climate change.

The fact that the path runs so close to the stormy Atlantic and parts of the dune growth had to give way for the construction is also thoughtful. I wonder how long these woods will withstand the elements here and whether they have not served a better purpose as living trees in Africa. Piquantly, the building is also called Eco Boardwalk. An exemplary use of George Orwell's newspeak. They say something that means the exact opposite.

The place on the beach called Claycastle is actually only noticeable because the Ballyvaughan march behind it is very deep, as befits a wetland. In addition to the disturbance of the birds there, another fear of the critics of the project is that the concrete profiles in which the cables run will not be or remain 100 percent tight. On the one hand, this would have the consequence that the bog dries out in the leaky places, because the tube acts like a drainage, and that on the other hand salt water can penetrate deep into the bog at high floods.

During our hike, we of course talked about the Celtic Interconnector and what effect this line will have on the countries involved. Security of supply is actually similar in France and Ireland, although not only the Irish data from 2010 are somewhat old. Thus, the question arises whether a cable arriving at one point, which as such is similar to a power plant of 700 MW, if on the other hand the corresponding current capacities are available, would make a big difference here.

In the case of Ireland and Brittany, electricity generation capacities are currently quite different. Ireland has put a lot of emphasis on wind energy in recent years and plans to expand it further, especially offshore. Floating wind farms off the west coast are also planned. One of them is to feed its electricity into the currently largest Irish coal-fired power plant, Moneypoint, which is scheduled to go off the grid in 2025. The French electricity company EDF has already secured shares in the Irish wind energy sector.

In Brittany, which does not have its own nuclear power plant, further capacity is needed to keep up with demand, and a new gas-fired power plant is being built, which can also be fired with all kinds of oils. The electricity from this power plant will probably become more expensive than Irish electricity from renewable energies, also due to CO2 surcharges.

The 2009 feasibility study also mentions that France is a net exporter of electricity and that there is a lot of predictable and cheap baseload electricity from the French nuclear power plants and that it can then flow to Ireland through the Celtic Interconnector. As you can at least tend to see from this book review, this is also to be enjoyed with caution. It seems that the French reactors are rather dilapidated, which is no wonder if many will soon reach their planned operating life of 40 years.

Although there is talk of extending the maturities for another 10 years, the authors believe that this would require investments of 100 billion euros. However, the French nuclear regulator on Thursday rejected an extension of the respective terms to more than 50 years. However, the Civaux 2 nuclear power plant, which was commissioned in 1999, has not even reached half its operating life and could theoretically remain in operation until 2049.

The costs of dismantling and storing nuclear waste for generations are not included in the 100 billion euros. Whether one wants to participate in this misery morally, but also financially, by means of a connecting cable is also a question that Eirgrid should at least discuss.

There is certainly a lot of potential for wind energy in Brittany, but it would probably be generated at similar times as wind energy in Ireland. In general, it can be said that electricity flows from cheap to expensive on the liberalised electricity market. It is therefore likely that electricity will become more expensive for the Irish consumer for this reason, and because the long lines will have to be paid for.

In southern Norway, electricity prices have risen since Nordlink was put into operation, and this map clearly shows the price differentials in the different regions.

What will also affect prices is an EU rule that requires 70 percent of cross-border electricity supplies to be available for commercial trade by 2025. This article deals with this fact and concludes that this, too, will make electricity more expensive for consumers by 6 percent.

Basically, this is about the old question of whether to build and maintain large infrastructures in a public and hopefully democratically controlled hand or whether to follow the belief of the "free" market and open these facilities to trade and speculation. Proponents of privatization talk about competition and efficiency, but private profits must also be financed by someone, in this case consumers. The Riester pension is one such example, where the pay-as-you-go procedure, which managed with a few percent of administrative costs, was partially abandoned in favor of private insurance companies, which need a multiple of "operating costs".

The nearly 600 km long line between France and Ireland is also subject to line losses, which are lowest when the cable is operated with the full power of 700 MW. However, it is unlikely that 700 MW will be needed on the one hand, while 700 MW surplus will be available on the other, or vice versa. Only in these two cases will the connection run at full efficiency.

These are above all questions and we beach walkers may be sidelined with our skepticism. Are we or the proponents of the Celtic Interconnector on the wrong track? However, it is difficult to understand that these questions appear to have either not been asked, or not been heard or answered correctly in such a large project.

It is to be feared that if these fundamental issues are not sufficiently discussed, the Celtic Interconnector, which is not cheap with a billion euros, will develop such a momentum that it will simply "have to" be built at the expense of EU taxpayers and electricity customers. In many cases, large-scale projects also become significantly more expensive, in Ireland, for example, the Dublin tram, or the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport or the prime example of Stuttgart 21. Then even more money migrates from the customer to the service provider.

The now officially put into operation Nordlink cable between Norway and Germany is also seen in this article of the FAZ not only positively. In the text, however, the thesis is put forward that Norway will now export electricity to Germany in addition to gas, and thus the advantages lie on the Norwegian side. This may be true for electricity producers, but for electricity customers, electricity sold abroad is a shortage, which, as mentioned above, then becomes more expensive.

The comment of the spokesman of the network operator Tennet fits in with this: "Overall, this should be in favor of consumers". One really wonders how it can be that you build a power cable for 2 billion euros and after that appear with the operators the words "should ... be " in their forecasts when it comes to consumers.

Overall, the question arises whether the energy transition – and it should actually be called the environmental transition – can be achieved with such large-scale projects at all. Perhaps the future lies in more intelligent use of our resources and decentralised structures. Everything that needs to be transported far creates pressure on our ecosystem in one way or another.

The sources can be found in the Original article.