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UK ministers eye Iceland’s volcano-powered electricity

Electricity generated from Iceland’s huge resource of volcanic geothermal energy could be imported into the UK, helping it reach its renewable energy targets, ministers said yesterday.

UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry, who is to visit Iceland in May to discuss the proposals, told The Guardian newspaper that the UK government is in “active discussion” with Icelandic officials, whom he described as “keen” on the idea.

Iceland, which hosts between 20 and 30 active volcanoes, stands to benefit from exporting its energy resource, after the failure of a number of its banks in the 2008 caused its economy to collapse.

And with declining oil and gas reserves, and a steep trajectory to achieve to meet its renewable energy targets, the UK is looking to a wide range of technologies and solutions to meet its both its future energy needs and its carbon abatement targets.

However, the import of geothermal electricity from Iceland to the UK would require the construction of a 1,000-1,500km interconnector between the two countries – the longest interconnector to be built in the world, something that Hendry admitted would be a hugely challenging engineering project.

The Icelandic proposal adds to the UK Government’s ambitious plans to connect their power network to other countries in Europe. The UK is currently connected to the continent via two interconnectors to the Netherlands and France, while an additional connection with Ireland is due to open later this year. Ministers are also looking to connect with Norway, which has an abundance of power from pumped hydro, and Belgium, as well as the tidal-rich Channel Island of Alderney and a new nuclear power station in France.

Meanwhile, the Europe-wide supergrid planned for the next decade would connect the Desertec solar project in southern Europe and Africa with the abundance of wave, tidal and wind in the north.

This level of interconnection would be essential to keep electricity prices in the UK competitive, said Hendry. “We will be dependent on imported energy,” he said, adding that the cables “are an absolutely critical part of energy security and for low carbon energy”.

Furthermore, high levels of interconnection would also allow the UK to exploit its wind resource, and export power when supplies are in abundance, and, because it can import power from elsewhere when supplies are low, reduce the cost of backing up power.

This, said Hendry, greatly enhances the argument for interconnection and wind power, which has taken a battering in the UK press in recent months. “Interconnectors are an incredibly effective way to counter the argument that you need to back up each GW of wind with a GW of gas – they quite clearly show you do not,” he said.

Tony Glover, head of press and public affairs at the Energy Networks Association, said: “From an energy industry perspective interconnectors will be important in enabling renewable energy by providing a solution to wind intermittency. They also add diversity to our electricity mix and strengthen security of supply.”

He added: “In the European context, they enable more integration with the wider European energy market and bring the benefits of converged prices. Interconnectors have an essential role to play in making best use of Europe’s renewable energy and allowing access to a European electricity grid.”

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