SHETLAND could become the northern hub of a European electricity superhighway feeding power between Scandinavia, Scotland and beyond.
The idea is being forcefully promoted within the European Union by MEPs representing countries fringing the North Sea who are eager to push for a renewables revolution in the region.
If successful, the end of this decade could see subsea interconnectors using Shetland as a fulcrum to exchange hydro power from Norway, geothermal generation from Iceland and wind energy from Scotland.
The proposal would boost the push for the 600 megawatt interconnector planned to hook up the proposed Viking Energy wind farm to the UK grid.
It could also see a second interconnector being built to accommodate extra power being transmitted through Shetland.
Edinburgh-based Element Power are already investigating a 600MW subsea cable linking Shetland with Norway under the working title Project Maali.
They envisage Scotland exporting wind generated electricity westwards beneath the waves, as well as importing hydro power from the east.
Shetland Islands Council has been involved in the wider North Atlantic Energy Network (NAEN) project since February last year, and contributed to a recent Arctic Frontiers Conference on the subject in Tromso.
The SIC’s 18 page report to the conference noted: “A transmission link between Shetland and Norway would make Shetland a more attractive landfall for an Icelandic or Faroese cable that would in turn strengthen the case for the ‘Maali’ link.
“Shetland’s immediate focus is on a new energy solution for the islands; the Shetland to UK interconnector and Shetland generation projects but realises the potential and scale of developments within the NAEN regions could include Shetland in a wider transmission network.
The report also reveals that the needs case for the Viking interconnector is expected to be submitted to energy regulator Ofgem later this year with a final decision on whether it will go ahead in early 2017.
At the same time, Viking Energy expect to enter a Contract for Difference (CfD) bidding process in late 2016.
Meanwhile the European Commission still has to rule whether state aid rules would allow the island generators like Viking to pay a reduced “strike” price for exporting electricity.
These two factors are key to whether the 103 turbine will go ahead and start producing power in 2021, as hoped by the developers.
An EC spokesman could give no timescale for a decision on state aid, only saying: “We have been in touch with the UK government about an amendment to their renewable energy scheme concerning wind energy on islands.”
Viking has booked 412MW of the cable’s capacity, leaving almost 200MW for the other two wind farms being proposed for Shetland’s north isles by Manchester-based Peel Energy (70MW) and local business consortium Energy Isles (150 to 200MW).
If additional power is to be transmitted from Iceland, Faroe and Norway there will be a case to build a second interconnector between Shetland and Scotland.
Conservative MEP Ian Duncan is a driving force behind the argument for a northern electricity hub in Shetland.
“The brilliant thing is that an interconnector can work both ways, so if Scotland can generate electricity above and beyond its own needs it can export it along those same interconnectors to a wider market,” he said.
Duncan said there was fierce competition across Europe for the €1 trillion that will need to be invested in a pan-continental electricity supergrid, with much of the money coming from the EU itself.
He has joined other northern politicians across the political divide who argue that the North Sea/North Atlantic cables should be given priority.
“The North Sea grid project is shovel ready,” he said. “We need to have the money there to unlock the potential.
“The reason I am pushing it so strongly is that a lot of the skills needed to deliver this grid are already here in Shetland and the north east – pipeline laying, survey vessels, deepwater technology – we already have it.”
He said that while Scandinavia was interested in exporting electricity to the expensive markets in the UK, he was interested in pushing down the price of electricity for everyone.
“There is an appetite across the board for a fully renewable electricity superhighway bringing together MEPs from around the North Sea pushing for an investment in their part of the world, which is why I am pushing for Shetland and for Scotland.
“We talk about a common market, so why not a common market for electricity, taking away the barriers that can help us address some of the key problems like energy poverty.”