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I rather like this idea

Sure, I’ve no idea whther it’s technically possible – I guess it’s getting close to be but that’s all – and I’d have my worries about the costings but:

Britain homes could one day be powered by electricity generated in America under plans to install up to six power cables across the Atlantic.

The cables would stretch roughly 3,500 miles across the ocean, reaching depths of up to 11,000 feet, and carrying power roughly equivalent to several nuclear power stations.

A group of London investors and energy consultants are behind the ambitious scheme, as they claim technological advances in subsea cables could allow the creation of a global “intercontinental grid”.

Simon Ludlam, one of the businessmen backing the project, says such a cable would enable electricity to be traded across the Atlantic, taking advantage of the differences in peak demand as the power line crosses time zones.

The cost of such an ambitious project is uncertain, although current estimates suggest it will be above £20bn but potentially cheaper than the £46bn being spent on Hinkley Point C – Britain’s new nuclear power station.

The thing is – with all those ccaveats about price and doability – that if it is possible to do it at some reasonable price then it is a good and sensible thing to be doing. Which does mark it out, distinguish it, from the usual Green plans.

I’d also point out that cheaper than Hinkley isn’t quite true. If we build Kinkley then operating costs are near zero. If we build the cables we’ve still got to buy the power in the US. But even so, intercontinental connectors, if they can be done, are a perfectly sensible idea.

55 thoughts on “I rather like this idea”

  1. Typical green comparison.
    Windfarms good = ‘free electricity’ and ignore the capital costs
    Nuclear bad = “Huge capital costs” and ignore the free electricity
    Undersea cables = ‘low capital costs’ and ignore what generates the electricity
    Undersea cables from the US = ‘look at me, no hands!’ What an insane idea that just highlights the challenge of displaced emissions being ignored.

  2. What a great idea. Outsource a large proportion of our energy needs to a single other country that can cut us off at the flip of a switch (anyone who thinks the Americans are our friends needs their head examining). And expose the transmission cable to 3000 miles of ocean where any of our enemies can cut it at will.

    These people are f*cking nuts.

  3. I’d naturally prefer to build the nuke and have the power on hand.

    Provided they didn’t steal my land to build it on.

  4. I like this because of the ability to make use of the time differential between US and UK Peak Loads, especially if the US is running nuclear power plants, might as well run them at full capacity and export the surplus power where it is needed.

    God save us from the zealots of Net Zero.

  5. Bloke in Pictland

    Trusting our electricity supply to the country that cut off Germany’s gas by attacking the Nordstream pipeline doesn’t seem a good idea to me.

    Distrusting the USA was another of Enoch Powell’s wise insights.

  6. There are big empty but sunny areas in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. Huge solar farms in these places could be connected to an ‘international grid’ and provide continuous power 24 hours per day.

    But could you *depend* on this source? A political falling out or criminal/terrorist action might be globally disastrous.

  7. I always find it difficult to fathom whether they are really as thick as the proverbial porcine faeces or merely treacherous. Then I remember that a politician’s sole concern is getting elected and being found out is only a secondary consideration so its most likely they don’t give the flying F at a rolling doughnut…

  8. It’s risky.

    Cables are a bit like pipelines. They can get sabotaged and no-one will ever find out who did it.

  9. South Sea Green Bubble

    It doesn’t matter is it’s feasible or not.
    All that matters is that it sounds plausible enough for the politicians to let you get your snout in a trough of taxpayers’ money.
    10 years of high salaries and expense account ‘research’ visits and all the dosh you can snaffle. All you need to produce is a stream of reports which you can probably generate by eco-word salad AI.
    Then when the momentum fades, you gradually let the gullible become the repsonsible parties while fading away to the next great Hustle.

    On a smaller point, it’d be a great way to go mine copper. Let some other schmuck do all the work, then nick the cable from the ocean bed. And yes, we’ve had 100kW carrying cables snaffled by you-know-who types, and no carbonised bodies left behind. You use a plastic rope and a pick-up truck apparently.

  10. “Cables are a bit like pipelines. They can get sabotaged and no-one will ever find out who did it.”

    Different sort of cable, but a lot of west & central Africa is without decent internet because of a lot of cables mysteriously failing. I can’t work out who benefits, but several cables going down at the same time looks like intentional action.

  11. In the field of energy only the most stupid and expensive solutions will be entertained. Tim the Coder is right, it’s a troughing scheme.

    It has long been a theory of mine that if the Mr Fusion from Back to the Future were invented tomorrow, with enough output to run a house from waste material, we would not be allowed to have it.

  12. Wow, I had no idea we can now produce superconductors at scale!

    What. we haven’t? Transmission losses might make this idea utterly impossible then!

  13. Problem is Hinkley is only so expensive as UK gov insisted on redoing all the existing R&D on safety and many variations, even the Chief Scientist said this was nuts. If you build a fleet of nuclear (or possibly a production line of Small Nuclear Reactors though again that’s a work around of the regulations) costs come down. Add in the uncertainty around costs of running transatlantic cable and the cost difference is likely to reduce a lot.

    In theory yes you could trade renewables owing to the time difference but not much in the way of excess solar in the US right now as they have higher peak time aligned loads due to AC and you don’t need transatlantic to trade wind.

    Meh – all for adding robustness and the ability to trade power for resilience – just like most trade – but not a clear win nor something I can see making a big difference compared to sorting out nuclear. It only looks good as we are doing daft things with nuclear but hey if its private investment go for it.

  14. Rolls Royce are quoting something like £1.8billion for an SMR generating 470MW. I imagine Westinghouse and the others quote similar costs and outputs.

    The obscenity that is HS2 is 50 of these!!

    Why aren’t they being build by the dozen?

    Cables from the US?

    No it’s just another grift.

    Connecting fantasy subsidy, sorry, wind “farms” and fantasy solar panels in deserts to users hundreds or thousands of miles away almost makes milk floats seem sensible.

    If these damned things are useless for users a few tens of miles away, why on earth would they be any better for users hundreds or even thousands of miles away?

    If Orwell was still here and was thinking of a dystopian nightmare novel, he would find that “green” is a more remorseless waster of resources and human output then even war!

    “We’ve always had cables to Eastasia!”

  15. The first thought I had on reading this was simply two words (no, not “**** off” for a change) but simply “transmission losses” – a sentiment echoed by “Rupert” above.

    Either they’ve invented a new superconductor that will work at room-ish temperatures or they’re going to have a crack at keeping the next ice-age away by boiling the Atlantic a bit at a time.

    Utter bilge.

  16. Worked on submarine cables for 20 years. Power cables are a very different fish from telecom cables.
    Big chunky things. Not usually laid in deep water, only on continental shelves because the length of suspended cable behind the laying shop till it touches the seabed is substantial many kilometres and the weight of that suspended cable (especially power cable) is huge. Maybe huge enough to distort the cable while laying. It’s a problem even laying armoured telecom cable in deep water. Distortion may be enough, especially while laying in rough weather to stretch and break the fibre optic core. Even with wire rope protection around that core.

    The proposed Morocco to UK power cable will be able to use the continental shelf.

    Also weight and bulk of that cable means the load on the ship is limited. Maybe 500km max not the 10000km of submarine cable you can get on a large cable shop. So 8 loads maybe, that all he have to be buoyed off and jointed to the next load. Possible damage while jointing from the same cause especially again in rough weather.

    Less prone to trawling and anchor damage than submarine cable though. More prone to breaking the trawlers gear!

    So .. possible. But not cheap. Still the other objections. Would not trust the US as a partner on anything critical. They always act only ABC exclusively in their own interests. Better energy with our own resources. Our own nukes or bust get on fracking the Bowland Shale.

  17. The Morocco cable is another example of trusting another country with the ability to turn off every modern convenience. Not sure who I’d trust less – the Moroccans or the USAsians.

  18. Meanwhile, we’ve got a perfectly good domestic oil and gas industry that’s deliberately being run into the ground by every political party.

  19. Orbital power transfer satellites (being researched by the US military IIRC) would probably be cheaper than laying cables across the Atlantic (esp when Starship is up and running).

  20. – power losses
    – the two continents are getting further apart from continental drift. At an inch or so per year, it might be a problem, but might not. Laying the cable over the part where it’s stretching might be a bigger problem, though I guess they’ve solved that for telecom already.
    – I read a blog article where someone proposed that because it would be cheaper, an orbital habitat should depend on ground-generated power instead of having their own. My immediate reaction was “You’re going to depend on strangers for your heat, light and air? Are you nuts?” The author is trying to push hydrogen generated by solar power. I’m not sure if he’s a grifter, or just naïve about human nature.

    Yeah if they can build it for interconnect to buy and sell power that’s ok. But I sure wouldn’t cancel building your own as a result.

  21. We have hundreds of years worth of coal.

    If we’re worried about emissions, why not wash the exhaust fumes? Makes it more expensive to burn coal, but that sounds like a more achievable goal than laying several thousands of miles of vulnerable subsea cable.

    It’ll still produce CO2, but we’re not going to be able to have prosperity without generating CO2, so it’s Net Zero that needs to taken behind the woodshed. And/or anybody insisting on Net Zero – let’s be honest, we can’t live without electricity, but we can live without “Greens”.

  22. What if Dale Vince was the carbon we decided to reduce?

    Do we need Dale Vince?

    Do we need King Charles?

    Do we need Greta?

    We expelled Shamima Begum because she is an enemy of our society. What does that make “Greens”?

  23. To return to my point about pipelines being sabotaged by forces unknown I’m also seriously concerned about being reliant on a USA administration headed if not actually run by the likes of the virulently anti-UK Biden/Obama combo. We might as well be dependent on the goodwill of the EU. Oh wait…………

    Mind you after the way our own establishment dissed Donald Trump, a true Anglophile, we only have ourselves to blame.

  24. SR Baylis

    A pal of mine worked on monitoring systems for undersea pipes and cables. He said that a huge problem is caused by sea creatures of various kinds tunelling underneath and causing breakages. It being nice and warm ( in relative terms ) under the cable or pipe it is ideal for nests and egg depositing.

  25. Build a load of new coal fired stations.
    Run the (cooled) exhaust gas through some extra large food growing greenhouses.
    Watch as the vegetation gobbles up all that lovely CO2.

    Food security increased and cheap energy.

    What’s not to like?

  26. If you want to import leccy and take benefit from time differences, shirley Norway would be the ideal partner? Shorter distance, lower tranmission losses. Loads of surplus energy from hydropower. Stable friendly government. I remember doing the power loss calculations at college electrical engineering.

  27. Iceland has more geothermal than they know what to do with.
    Plus it’s closer.
    Double plus the population is only about the same as Coventry so we could invade if they threatened to turn the power off.
    But being a friend of carbon I didn’t say that.

  28. Might also be worth pointing out the cable is going to be laid straight across where the Atlantic is widening several inches a year thanks to volcanic activity. The same phenomenon produces the volcanoes in Iceland.

  29. I like the idea too particularly because something like this can be built and in service while a nuclear plant is still getting through the preliminary stager of the planning process. As long as there is diversity of supply there is no reason not to go for it provided the cost is right. The longer the cable, the bigger the losses so effectively the more expensive the electricity. A point is reached where it becomes cheaper to convert the electricity to an e-fuel then ship it round the plant just as we do with fossil fuels. The additional attraction of this approach is that e-fuels are easy to store and you aren’t so tied to a particular source.

  30. I’ve a great idea for getting power from the USA to UK. Despatchable too, use it when you need it. LNG. It’s going to be big.

  31. ‘“When the sun is high in London, it’d be breakfast time in New York where people could use UK or European power to cook breakfast,” ‘

    Seeing as even the southernmost tip of England is more northerly than the northernmost tip of the USA (apart from Alaska, which wouldn’t be connected), I have my doubts whether it could ever make economic sense to use UK sunshine to cook New York breakfasts.

    I’m not even sure that sunlight at UK latitudes makes sense even for cooking UK lunches.

  32. Henning (in/from Norway)

    @jgh

    You’ve already done that and so have the Germans. Prices have increased tenfold and we are about to run out of electricity.

  33. Once they solve the little issue of the cables in current offshore power generation projects failing at an unexpected rate, leaving them unable to transfer power ashore *for months at a time* until repairs can be made.

  34. >”Jim
    March 16, 2024 at 9:11 am
    What a great idea. Outsource a large proportion of our energy needs to a single other country that can cut us off at the flip of a switch (anyone who thinks the Americans are our friends needs their head examining). And expose the transmission cable to 3000 miles of ocean where any of our enemies can cut it at will.”

    Continental Europe under the thumb of the Russians over gas, UK under the thumb of America over electricity.

    I think we just found where our next proxy war is going to be held, boys!

  35. We mustn’t just concentrate on diversity of supply, we must also have equality and inclusion of supply. And the officers to ensure compliance.

  36. Good idea, let’s do it (if it makes sense economically). It’s increasing the energy mix, so increasing our security.

    The figure I had in my head was that HVDC cable losses are around 1% per 100km (though my first Google hit suggests you can get to 1% per 400km). Very manageable.

    Axial stress when laying in very deep water could be an issue, but chucking more steel at it would solve that.

  37. “HVDC cable losses are around 1% per 100km”

    So 3500 miles, 5600 km, that’s 56% of all those GWs boiling flipper then.
    In practice, allowing for the onshore lines to the generators and from Land’s End to somewhere useful (another 1000km-1500?), you’d be doing well to get a third of your leccy out the other end.
    Until someone steals the copper.

    Good business for Fags, buy their shares now! Hmmmm.

  38. I’ve a great idea for getting power from the USA to UK. Despatchable too, use it when you need it. LNG. It’s going to be big.

    Very much along the lines of: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck full of computer tapes.” 🙂

  39. What’s the physical reason which makes US electricity so much cheaper that UK electricity? So much that we can accept 56% losses? What do they do that we cannot?

    Rhetorical question, of course. They burn oil, coal, gas and uranium with the aim of producing cheap reliable energy which enables their economy to grow faster in good times and recover faster in bad.

    We counter that with…Net Zero!

    Expensive energy is government policy. There’s no other possible explanation. Even cock-up couldn’t deliver this mess on its own. They do it for reasons of their own and what happens to the population just doesn’t matter.

  40. @Tim the Coder:

    ‘“HVDC cable losses are around 1% per 100km”
    So 3500 miles, 5600 km, that’s 56% of all those GWs boiling flipper then.’
    _______
    Wouldn’t it be less than that? After 100 km, you’d only have 99% of your initial volume left, so losses over the next 100 km would only be 0.99% of the initial volume. And so on for each subsequent 100 km section.

  41. @Paul
    Not so sure. Since the 1% is voltage dropping due to resistance. And you’re still pulling the same wattage, VxA=W means the amperage must rise. And it’s amperage causes heating. That way it starts looking like 100.1%> per 100 km. Another way to look at it is the 1%/100km is not a fall in supply but an increase in demand. The resistance in the cable is doing work (producing heat), therefore requiring wattage. So you have to put more W’s in to get 100% out at the other end.

  42. PERFORMANCE AND COSTS – Energy losses are measured as the fraction of the transported energy that is lost
    mainly due to line heating. Losses are lower in HVDC than in HVAC over long distances: for a ±800 kV line voltage,
    losses are about 3% per 1,000 km for an HVDC while they are about 7% per 1,000 km for an HVAC line [4]. For HVDC
    sea cables, losses are about the same but can reach 60% per 100 km for a 750 kV HVAC sea cable. Most of the total
    T&D losses occur in the distribution systems.

    https://iea-etsap.org/E-TechDS/PDF/E12_el-t&d_KV_Apr2014_GSOK.pdf
    Transmission losses not as bad as thought, although more up to date estimates would be nice.

  43. Wot BiS says…

    It’s also the reason why there’s very definite rules about cable diameters and the amps they may carry. And even then you really don’t want to run more than 70% of that, because the heat generated can’t always be easily dissipated..

    But no doubt the proposers will make good bread on the scam idea. All they need is a frank stare, a firm handshake…. And possibly a Goldén Suit. With accompanying top hat.

  44. @Paul,Somerset
    I’m no expert, but I think not.
    They are proposing HVDC, so the losses will be resistive heating. This is proportional to the current (squared), and the current will be constant the whole length. Thus the losses (heating) per Km will be the same throughout.

    The loss will show up as a reduction in the voltage at the receiving end compared to the sending end, but since this is DC, the voltage will have no impact on the losses (assuming the insulation is any good at all!).

    Doing some back of the envelope calculations, a pair of wires at +- 1MV carrying 10kA would transmit 20GW. The wires woukld need a (copper) crioss section ty[pically 5 square inches each i.e. 30cm2.
    This works out at some 60 tonnes of copper per km, about $600,000 at the refinery. I’d guess refining to conductor grade, plus all the other stuff in the cableles would multiply this.

    So 6000km or so, 360 thousand tonnes of copper, worth at least $3bn, lying around to be stolen.

    One other point: DC interconnect must inherently grid-follow, not grid-define. So you need a grid MUCH bigger than the interconnect. Think of a Winnebago behemoth towing a mini, or a mini towing that Winnebago. One of those will fail cornering real quickly!
    So how do these grifters propose to stabilise the grid against such massive grid-following influx?
    Scam scam scam scam scam. With a fried egg on top and scam.

  45. I seem to remember that underwater cables have different current-carrying capacity that free-air cables due to the surrounding water creating capacitance effects. Though a voice at the back of my head is suggesting this is affects AC current, so affects signal cables and AC power. May have to dig out my 1995 lecture notes!

  46. @jgh
    You recall correctly. it’s one of the reasons HVDC is preferred for very long lines.
    It also avoids EM radiation: 50Hz has a wavelength of 1000km, so a very long line is a pretty good aerial.
    Another benefit is since the voltage limit is the peak voltage, not the RMS value, you avoid the 1/sqrt(2) RMS reduction inflicted by AC.
    And inherent grid sync avoidance. Ain’t modern power-semiconductor devices wonderful!

    Underwater cables also have a cooling benefit over free-air, so the current/area can be a bit higher, but alas is doesn’t scale. The cable cross-sectional area, hence heating (for any given current density), varies as r*r but the circumference, hence cooling, only by r. The fatter the cable, the less cable is surrounded by coolth and the more surrounded by additional (heating) cable. It’s why free-air cables use 4 separate bonded conductors. Tricky to do if each needs megavolt insulation and steel strength wires.

    The most obvious reason this is a scam, is that instead of building 5000-6000km of cable from US windfarm/solar power stations that don’t exist, no-one has yet built a 500-600km cable from Iceland, who have more geothermal than they know what to do with. When that route is fully subscribed, then…Nope. still a scam.

  47. The Pedant-General

    FFS!

    Don’t make into electricity, then use that to turn the energy back into something you can transport. JUST FECKING TRANSPORT IT!

    Stop dicking about with the wrong side of horribly lossy conversions.

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