back to article UK energy watchdog to probe National Grid and Scottish Power over fault-plagued subsea cable

Brit energy regulator Ofgem has opened an investigation into National Grid and Scottish Power's operations on the Western Link subsea cable. The £1.3bn project, which transmits renewable energy from Highland wind farms via Hunterston in Western Scotland to North Wales, became operational in October 2018, three years behind …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Western Link's website has been offline since yesterday afternoon"

    What is this ostrich reflex that companies seem to adopt more and more ? If your product has an issue, shutting down your website doesn't really make things look better.

    Yes, I understand, having to admit that everything is borked is not fun. You're a company. Have some balls. Own up to the problem. People really do prefer a company that admits its faults and works hard to resolve them, rather than a company acting like a kid who disappears when the pitcher of milk lays shattered on the kitchen floor.

    1. Tom Paine
      Joke

      Re: "Western Link's website has been offline since yesterday afternoon"

      Shocking.

    2. Robert Grant Silver badge

      Re: "Western Link's website has been offline since yesterday afternoon"

      Maybe it's just powered by that cable.

  2. quxinot Silver badge

    Good job to the subheading editor today. Lovely, took me a moment. :D

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Pint

      Ohm my god, the current sub deserves a pint -->

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Coat

        re: Ohm my god, the current sub deserves a pint

        But is the Sub.... Yellow?

        I'll get me coat.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here we go again

    I was told a story some years ago, which I had no reason to question, about a company which manufactured a maintenance free HV cable termination system.

    They were so confident about the design they gave an equivalent lifetime guarantee ( cable design lifetime circa 25. - 30 years).

    These were enthusiastically installed throughout the industry until around ten years into service they started breaking down.

    The liabilities were significant, so much so, the company folded and was closed down .

    The company, I was told was called Pirelli Cable Systems.

    A short while later, from the ashes of PCS emerged a new company. Funnily enough, this company was called Prysmian and it built a significant business repairing and designing HV cable jointing systems....

  4. G R Goslin

    An excellent piece of double-speak. Here Ofgem is asserting that they have not made any findings IN THE PAST, of an investigation which has not yet begun. It must be a cloudy crystal ball that they're using!

    "Ofgem cautiously added: "The opening of this investigation does not imply that we have made any findings about about non-compliance by National Grid Electricity Transmission or Scottish Power Transmission."

  5. Scottish Scientist

    The future for undersea power cables

    The delays and outages have been disappointing but I think it worth persevering with the undersea power cable technology, to perfect it, to make it sufficiently robust and reliable.

    This is just the beginning of the wind power transmission from Scotland to consumers in England.

    Ireland is another great wind resource country which can do the same - export wind power to England and Wales using undersea power cables.

    Iberdrola and other Spanish power companies ought to be thinking about undersea cables to transmit Spanish solar power to England.

    Undersea cables connecting Spain, France, Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland can comprise a Western European electricity grid whose power supply / demand mismatches can be managed with new pumped storage hydroelectricity schemes in the mountains of Scotland, Wales etc.

    But then why stop there? A European Grid ought to be wide enough to manage renewable energy resources from Greenland to North Africa to Russia and Turkey. Scotland is ideally placed to serve as a major power distribution hub for an inter-continental electricity grid.

    World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?

    https://scottishscientist.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/worlds-biggest-ever-pumped-storage-hydro-scheme-for-scotland/

    1. Killing Time

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      'Iberdrola and other Spanish power companies ought to be thinking about undersea cables to transmit Spanish solar power to England.'

      I suspect they have and then dismissed the thought in the space of a millisecond.

      Presumably you don't expect them to dig up or straddle France but just traverse the Bay of Biscay? An area who's sea conditions match the worst areas in the world? Then there is the billions in cost. Do you think they would foot that bill in the hope of selling energy to a country which is doing it's best to distance itself politically and financially from the rest of Europe?

      Blue sky thinking completely disengaged from the reality of life.

      1. fwthinks

        Re: The future for undersea power cables

        The cost / benefit may not be too good today, but I would be surprised if these schemes are being rejected instantly. There are lots of work being done with high-voltage DC transmission (HVDC) as this is more efficient for long distance cables.

        Just look at the amount of long distance oil and gas pipelines - if there is enough money to be made, distance and engineering issues will be overcome.

        By the way, conditions at the bottom of the sea tend to be a lot calmer than at the surface - as long as you are not too near any tectonic faults.

        1. Tom Paine

          Re: The future for undersea power cables

          By the way, conditions at the bottom of the sea tend to be a lot calmer than at the surface - as long as you are not too near any tectonic faults.

          Yes, but the cables are laid (and repaired, when needed) from surface vessels, not submarines.

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: The future for undersea power cables

            I doubt you have seen just how some of the oil industries tech works in pretty horrendous conditions!

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: The future for undersea power cables

              There are still safety issues, like bad weather might mean a ship can't get on station to start repairs until weather conditions are better. And there's also a general availability problem given cable ships and crews are very specialised, so may be working a long way from where a fault occurs.

            2. Rol Silver badge

              Re: The future for undersea power cables

              Shortly after the islander's of Inishbiggle finally got connected to the drinking water supply of Ireland it failed.

              A diver went down to investigate the underwater pipeline, and on seeing a carrier bag out the corner of his eye hurtling toward him, he decided to dodge out the way rather than get caught up in it.

              Except it wasn't a carrier bag, it was a boulder.

              Last I heard, the islander's are still getting their drinking water from the garden tap of a kindly woman on Achill.

        2. Killing Time

          Re: The future for undersea power cables

          'The cost / benefit may not be too good today, but I would be surprised if these schemes are being rejected instantly.'

          OK, I take it back, rejected after they have time for a good snigger.

          Pipelines carry product from where there is a supply to where there isn't an existing supply.

          In the current circumstances it's a non starter...

      2. James Anderson

        Re: The future for undersea power cables

        Would be a great idea if solar power were at all economical, or indeed much solar power was generated in Spain.

        Spain uses more wind generated electricity than any where else in Europe.

        It also generates a pathetically small amount of solar energy which comprises a ridiculously large proportion of our electricity bill. Contributing to the highest domestic electricity price in the EU.

        If solar cannot work economically in Spain then it has no chance any where else.

      3. katrinab Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: The future for undersea power cables

        Spain and France are both part of the European Grid. So electricity can already get from Spain to France. At the time of writing, electricity is flowing in the opposite direction - 730MW from France to Spain.

        https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/france/

        We already have an interconnect cable between France and England, and at the time of writing, 2GW is flowing to England across that link. There is also 1GW flowing from Belgium to England, and 930MW flowing from Netherlands to England

        https://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

        Far from being blue sky thinking, it is probably something that will happen in the not too distant future. We've had two new links between England and continental Europe open fairly recently, and right now, all three links are running at pretty much full capacity. A fourth link is pretty likely to happen, the only question that remains is where it will go.

        1. Killing Time

          Re: The future for undersea power cables

          'A fourth link is pretty likely to happen, the only question that remains is where it will go.'

          Yeah, well if I wasn't clear, my money is on it not being between Spain and England which is the original suggestion.

          Please keep up.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The future for undersea power cables

          "A fourth link is pretty likely to happen, the only question that remains is where it will go."

          Which does indicate my initial thoughts on the matter on reading the article. Undersea power transmission is a "done deal". We can already do it. Unless this Scotland to Wales link is something truly new and innovative, then otherwise it's just existing tech, maybe with a few tweaks.

          But on a similar note, what's the technical reason for a direct undersea link from Scotland to Wales? Why not just put the the 'leccy into the nearest National Grid point on the mainland? If it's a capacity issue, is it not cheaper to upgrade the relevant parts of the grid? Or is related to loses over distance?

          Or is this a case of Scotland and Wales future-proofing supply interconnects in case of one or both leaving the UK? :-)

          1. Killing Time

            Re: The future for undersea power cables

            Technical reasons are likely to include better control of AC phase and reactive loading over such distances from out in the 'sticks' where the power is being generated to the areas it is most likely to be consumed, the Northern Powerhouse/ Midlands.

            An alternate route provides distribution supply security in the event of natural disaster, changing climate or even 'bad actor' events.

            Undersea, minimises NIMBY issue likely to come about by trying to get increased distribution capacity slung across half of the UK.

            A whole host of factors will have been considered, these are probably just the headline ones.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      wind power transmission from Scotland to consumers in England.

      It's one way that way an independent Scotland could make money I suppose - by becoming England's power supply.

      it could new pumped storage hydroelectricity schemes in the mountains of Scotland,

      Highland Clearances Mk II, for water instead of sheep this time?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: The future for undersea power cables

        Not a lot to clear apart from grouse and henries.

    3. HammerOn1024

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      Actually, if one is going to go to Greenland, there's no obstacle for hooking into the North American grid. Currently, only China and Brazil have larger renewable energy grids than the US, and Canada rounds out the top 10 largest producers. And with the US actually adding capacity rapidly, contrary to popular opinion in some regions, spreading the load would be ideal operationally.

    4. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      This is just the beginning of the wind power transmission from Scotland to consumers in England.

      Ireland is another great wind resource country which can do the same - export wind power to England and Wales using undersea power cables.

      They can only transmit power if the cable ain't broke. And last week there was a bit of high pressure, meaning light winds, which is not uncommon during winter. In which case, both Scotland and Ireland might want (ok, need) to import electricity. This is also a bit of a problem for Germany, given the way they've 'embraced' windmills. Especially as they're already having to import electricity from France, Netherlands, and close down their own nuclear and coal generation.

      Luckily with 'smart' meters, it should be possible to give 'renewable' fans the service they desire, so no wind, no electricity.

    5. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      I think it worth persevering with the undersea power cable technology, to perfect it, to make it sufficiently robust and reliable.

      Undersea power cables are already pretty robust and fairly reliable as the existing links between Wales and Ireland, England and France and others elsewhere prove. The key difference here it seems is the use of higher than previously possible voltages in order to increase the carrying capacity without having to increase the amount of metal used.

      If it turns out that the cable or the switchgear or the conversion components can't handle it, maybe they could just reduce the operating voltage :-)

      Gridwatch

      M.

    6. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      but I think it worth persevering with the undersea power cable technology, to perfect it, to make it sufficiently robust and reliable.

      Why are you talking like this is some new technology? There have been and are undersea power transmission lines all over the world. This is nothing new and novel.

      This is entirely incompetence in the implementation of a long-proven and used technology.

    7. katrinab Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: The future for undersea power cables

      Electricity can already get from Scotland to Morocco via various undersea and overland cables, so this is by no means a new idea.

  6. Kreton

    “The cable increased interconnection capacity by over 2,200MW – enough to power more than 4 million homes in Scotland, Wales and England every year, according to Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power.”

    But only if the wind blows!

    A blog shows the UK demand for electricity was high last week when we were suffering a lot of fog and little wind and contributing around 5% of our electricity requirements and coal, which is to be shut down this year, has been called upon to contribute 10%. And by 2025 it gets worse with a possible electricity supply deficit of some 16GW.

    See https://adriankerton.wordpress.com/005c-will-the-lights-go-off-in-january/

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      The quoted statement is correct. It's referring to the max capacity of the cable. It make no mention of the actual amount of leccy being sent :-)

  7. Sir Runcible Spoon
    Mushroom

    Why do customers always foot the bill?

    Why can't the shareholders pay for once?

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Why do customers always foot the bill?

      A business exists to make money from its customers. It may borrow money for capital projects, money from shareholders (implied), bondholders or banks, but ultimately those costs need to be recouped from the customers. Sorry.

      I should remark that one reason why public finance is attractive is that it can significantly reduce borrowing costs and the need for a competitive RoI. This is why the public tends to end up with the loss making but essential infrastructure -- if there's money to be made from it then all that 'inefficient' business has to be transferred to private hands (can't have nationalized organizations making a profit......bad for business).

  8. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    Have they tried turning it off and on?

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Mushroom

      It's electrical power we are talking about. Have they tried putting a paperclip in the fuse holder?

  9. tony2heads
    FAIL

    Perfect symbol

    "once described by UK ministers as the perfect symbol of the country's single electricity market"

    It is the perfect symnol

  10. Torchy

    Not fit for purpose.

    Obviously the cable and/or the overland transmission equipment is not fit for purpose.

    Get the contracted companies into court to either enforce upgrades at their expense or to admit failure and recoup all payments from them in full and start over again.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Not fit for purpose.

      On big projects like this, they usually spin up a new company with just enough money and assets to do the job. The article implies the extra costs already incurred have pushed the company into financial issues. It's quite possible that there will be no money for compensation or even no company to blame.

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

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