By Hitachi Energy
The European Union’s North Sea countries recently vowed to build more than half of the bloc’s needed offshore wind capacity by 2050 in order to reach EU climate neutrality. At the heart of the ambition to turn the North Sea into a green energy powerhouse lies the idea that countries will collectively harvest the water’s windy resources and jointly reap the benefits of this interconnected clean electricity revolution. But such a complex network is yet to be designed and built, raising questions about how a meshed offshore grid could actually be implemented from a technical and economical point of view.
In this Perspectives, Sandy Mactaggart, Director of Offshore Delivery at SSEN Transmission, the electricity transmission network owner in the north of Scotland, and Niklas Persson, Managing Director of Grid Integration at Hitachi Energy, discuss the development of a meshed offshore grid based on hands-on experience gained whilst jointly developing one of Europe’s flagship HVDC (high-voltage direct current) multi-terminal projects in Scotland. They argue that offshore grids will be absolutely vital to unlock and harvest the best renewable energy resources and that a holistic planning approach involving all stakeholders as early as possible is the most efficient way forward. They also agree that a HVDC network stretching across several countries is technically feasible and that the entire energy transmission supply chain needs to tackle the risks surrounding current commodity price fluctuations and the availability of material.
Q: What are the benefits of strong relationships between project developers and technology providers when delivering energy transition projects?
Sandy Mctaggart (S.M.), SSEN Transmission: The key benefit of establishing long-term relationships with our supply chain and really understanding the collective approach is delivering on our plans by jointly managing the activities and risks.
Niklas Persson (N.P.), Hitachi Energy: I fully agree with what Sandy said and collaboration applies especially to HVDC technology. Its engineering processes are very specific compared to normal offshore AC substations where you have more standard interfaces that are well developed through many years of standardization. When it comes to HVDC we have a collaborative engineering process throughout the project. In our work with Sandy and his team we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. By discussing and agreeing on who is best suited to take on certain areas we eliminate risks throughout the execution process.
Q: How can project developers and technology providers best collaborate to deliver on plans, given the existing supply chain bottlenecks?
S.M.: As transmission operators we’re always working within tight timescales. I see great opportunity in a program approach rather than looking at individual projects, and in the UK we’re seeing this now with the publication of National Grid’s Holistic Network Design. It will certainly make it a lot easier by allowing us to organize activities in a way that encourages the most efficient delivery, while helping us avoid bottlenecks. Previously, we were often looking at individual projects as they came along with their own unique characteristics and timelines.
Specifically on the delivery of our second HVDC project, we found ways to improve efficiency when considering the timescales that were actually needed, without exposing either party to additional risks. The program approach certainly allows our management teams to learn from better planning and scheduling and to deploy lessons learnt on future projects.
N.P.: At Hitachi Energy, we have in the past been asked to do EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) work. Before, when the market was requiring only a couple of HVDC projects globally, we had the ability to either join forces with a partner or to carry out the construction work ourselves. But now that the market is requiring many more projects, we are looking at where can we scale best. That’s in our own factories where we make components like transformers, valves, control and protection, cooling systems etc., and it’s also in our engineering teams because we are a very attractive employer in this area.
Considering the scaling-up we are facing, we have adapted our approach to projects now through programs and more standardized interfaces, but also through each partner focusing on taking on the risks they can take on best and growing capacity to execute. This is key for us going forward.
Q: Are meshed offshore grids possible, and if so, what would be the benefits?
S.M.: There will be a requirement for offshore grids, they’re absolutely necessary for the future of the green energy transition.
We obviously need to look at the challenges associated with meshed offshore grids on a regulatory, technology and delivery basis. As a transmission operator, we are certainly taking very important steps towards an offshore grid. At the moment, we’re delivering the Shetland HVDC link project together with Hitachi Energy, that’s a multi-terminal project which will connect Shetland to the wider Great Britain’s grid for the very first time. Within Europe it’s certainly an important flagship project.
Point-to-point connections are becoming a challenge, certainly in the UK, in terms of achieving permissions and consents to build. That’s why we’re looking at the possibility of building a DC switching station in the Peterhead area of Aberdeenshire. We’re very confident in the multi-terminal technology that we’re deploying on the Shetland project which is an important foundations step for offshore grids. We need to address some of the challenges going forward but there’s no doubt that offshore grids will be needed.
N.P.: Agreeing on the design is the first thing that needs to happen. What will offshore meshed networks look like and what is the regulatory framework? How do you decide who receives the energy generated and when? How do project developers generate revenues? We need to address these questions before we can deploy the technology and decide how to collaborate among OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to make sure that the various technologies actually integrate well.Read more
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