SVU Newsletter for February/March


The big questions this month...

Could the Supergrid rid our landscape of the threat of yet more pylons?

Can we create an energy future that does not despoil the environment

with the very technology we are employing to save it?

We show the answer can be YES but it's all down to the timing...

SVU Newsletter for February/March 2011

Published Saturday, 26 February 2011


It's already March, the snowdrops are out along with the aconites to let us know that spring is on its way. The daffodils are in bud and the weeping willows are just breaking. Mother Nature is crooking her finger, beckoning us out into the great outdoors and perhaps we are heading toward the time when a drive to the coast for a walk along the beach at Aldeburgh is in order, perhaps followed by a fish and chip lunch at the East's most famous fish and chip shop. And while you stand, looking out to sea with a fresh breeze on you face, maybe you might like to think that those two lines of huge pylons you drove past on route could just become redundant in your lifetime because of developments out there at sea, just beyond the horizon.

You have heard mention of windfarms and undersea electricity transmission cables in previous newsletters from us and we are all to aware that this might all seem like horribly technical stuff that you don't really want to know about. However what we want to talk about this month is a vast project that will achieve what we were suggesting with a pair of small maps in our lastNewsletterthat looked like this:-

The "NOT THIS" map (below) shows you what National Grid want to foist on us all:

bringing the power from the new generators ACROSS East Anglia to London.

The "THIS" map shown below represents the solution we want:

taking the power AROUND East Anglia to London

So the key point of our newsletter this month therefore is to introduce Europe's biggest civil engineering project, the Supergrid. Because it takes the power aroundrather than over East Anglia, the Supergrid has the potential to free our landscape from the threat of further blighting with pylons and for that reason alone, we all need to know just a little about it.

Key Points this Month

Supergrid to the rescue?

Point to Point windfarm connections

GIL to the rescue? The local solution - if it's needed!

Timing of energy infrastructure developments - how will it effect our landscape

The Government'sSupergridEnquiry

Could the Supergrid Rid our Landscape of Pylons?

Supergrid to the rescue?

The Supergrid or the Europe wide electricity grid has been talked up by many recently, including the Prime Minister. Supergrid is a £200+ billion European project that will link renewable energy generation and electricity users across the entire continent. It is a necessity to deal with the fact that most renewable generation is intermittent and so when the sun goes down on the solar parks or the wind drops in the wind farms, some other form of generation from across the continent steps in to keep the light on.

So what will this supergrid look like? Well from theFriends of the Supergridweb site we have one rather simple view. In the following map you see an on-land grid stretching out across the continent with a large undersea component off our shores.

Map courtesy of Friends of the Supergrid

Now I rather hope some of you will look at the UK part of the map and notice the way it chimes with our proposal for aUK ring main, details of which are on ourweb site,a map from which we include below.

But there are differences in both emphasis and objective between these propositions and it is worth looking at them to see how they can serve our objectives. Our ring main proposal is essentially a way of shifting the burden of UK electricity transmission out of our lovely landscape and placing it near the coastally located generators of the future. The result will be a drastic reduction in the requirement for transmission capacity on land, thereby negating the need for reinforcement of the current on-land grid.

The Supergrid has a different fundamental objective. It first and foremost provides an energy export system to drive competitive low carbon generated energy markets across Europe. Its second primary function is as we said earlier, to deal with the intermittent nature of renewably generated power. And of course, all of this is designed to de-carbonise the energy system and address global warming.

But how does this effect our local issue? Well to start with, the power from the Supergrid will be far more stable and constant than it is from (say) the forthcoming Anglia 1 windfarm. This means that you do not need gas powered powerstations scattered across our country to kick in and deal with the fact that the wind stops blowing. It also means that the power from the windfarms will be connected to the Supergrid, not to points all along our coastline with all the attendant lines of new pylons that implies. With the Supergrid, the power for the UK will be delivered to on-land distribution hubs from "Supernodes" . These are represented by the blobs on the intersections in the lines on the Friends of the Supergrid map. Supernodes are the points where national grids tap into the Supergrid so the one in the sea off the Thames Estuary would deliver clean, secure power to Londonwith absolutely no need for it to be carried across East Anglia.

So we want the Supergrid!And it is coming. The first of the "Supernodes" mentioned above is under development in the Morey Firth and other necessary technologies are about 18 months away according to electrical engineering giant, Siemens. The Government is signed up to Supergrid and the EU will in all probability regulate and oversee it. There are both environmental, economic and policy drivers to make it happen so we have high hopes that these together will make it a reality. The big question here is WHEN and we all need to press for the answer to be SOON.

There is another aspect of Supergrid worth considering. The sub sea cable technology used for this is one we have mentioned before. It's called HVDC. The really expensive parts of HVDC connections are the converter stations at the ends - not the cable itself. So if the power comes ashore from the Supergrid in HVDC form, the cost effective way to take it inland is with more HVDC cable in one of the concrete lined tunnels we advocate. Where did we get that idea from? National Grid. This proposition echoes what they intend to do with the west coast HVDC connector from Scotland to the Wirral (see The sub sea cable will come ashore and travel a notable distance across the Wirral underground to the Connahs Quaysubstation. So it's not just in London that National Grid go underground!

More on the Supergrid idea from Friends of the Supergrid at

Point to Point

No not the horsey sort but the type of wind farm connection that we were discussing in last month'snewsletter.Sub sea connections are, as we have said, achieved over longer distances like that from the Anglia 1 windfarm to London, byHVDC cable. So, you might ask, can such a connection be fully integrated into the Supergrid when it is built? The answer is no, not directly. We have contacted the owners of existing sub sea grids such as theBritnedone that links the UK and Dutch grids and they have confirmed that it is not designed for further liking-in at sea. Butdoesthat mean that such a connection could become redundant with the advent of Supergrid? No. Even now, transmission hubs are coming into existence and one is at Grain (one end of Britned) in the Thames Estuary and so the Supergrid could link to Grain along with the windfarms and Britned. So far from being a potentially redundant connection in a decade or so, this is still a connection strategy that builds toward our long term energy future.

GIL to the rescue?

GIL is incredibly attractive. GIL stands for Gas Insulated Lines and you can find fuller details about it here. In brief, GIL is an underground electricity transmission line technology that has been developed by Siemens in Germany. It comprises a power line suspended in a tubular housing filled with an insulating gas. In use it emits very little electromagnetic radiation or heat and is highly efficient. For these and other reasons GIL is our preferred underground transmission technology.

Recently, we have been asked what exactly is our preferred solution for the Bramford to Twinstead connection if it proves necessary? So below is our simple answer which I had better first premise by saying that we do not see the proposed new circuits as necessary in all events. This is because the need will depend on whether Government can drive a windfarm connection and grid development strategy that is truly co-ordinated and efficient. We believe that such co-ordination should include the Supergrid. Due to inadequate planning and policy from Government together with existing National Grid connection policy, we see the current connection strategy as unsophisticated and potentially shambolic, resulting in landscape blighting and vast waste of resources, both fiscal and environmental. Even Scottish Power Renewables /Vattenfall suggested this as we showed in our last newsletter.

So back to our preferred solution if it is needed.

We advocate the boring of a concrete lined tunnel, similar to those built under London, 4 metres in diameter, as directly as practicable between Bramford and the Twinstead Tee. The tunnel would lie well below the landscape and would not effect land use above it. Such a transmission tunnel would cause negligible environmental detriment. GIL would be installed to achieve any needed increase in transmission capacity. As and when the existing overhead transmission lines need replacement, the pylons should be taken down and further GIL installed in the tunnel to achieve the total needed capacity. (Read more on the London tunnelshere.)

How much would that cost? £300 million. When can they start? Very soon - no need for this lengthy planning and consultation process. And crucially, this strategy is future proof, providing an economic upgrade path. Best of all, this strategy leads to a pylon free landscape in this area within a generation.

Timing - how will it effect our landscape?

The timing of future energy industry developments will be critical to our aim to protect and enhance our landscape. If the Government fails to make the all too necessary reforms to National Policy and Energy Industry Regulation in time to promote the coordinated connection of the windfarms, a proliferation of lines of pylons across East Anglia will surely be the result. If the Supergrid developments are too slow, then pylons will be built only to become superfluous within a decade or so as the windfarms are first connected direct to the on-land grid, and then to the Supergrid.

Also, if the redevelopment of National Policy is not timely, not only will the result be costly to our landscape, it will also be costly to our nation's coffers. The difference in cost for connecting the wind farms in the ad hock manner we are currently seeing and a more co-ordinated strategy for the UK was said to be £8 billion at the recent National Symposium on Future Energy Networks and that means £8 billion wasted. But then if the Supergrid renders this UK connection strategy redundant within a decade, an even larger proportion of the money spent on these windfarm to shore connections and the consequent grid reinforcement could be said to be wasted.

Taken together this means getting the chronology of these electricity industry developments right is of the utmost importance.

The Supergrid Government Enquiry

We have just had news that Parliament's Energy and Climate Change Committee is holding an inquiry into the Supergrid discussed above and they are calling for 3000 word submissions to include answers to a number of issues laid out on the Parliament web site. Needless to say, Stour Valley Underground has its response in hand but perhaps you or your organisation would like to write yourselves. We certainly believe that the Supergrid is the way forward to a more energy secure future with far greater economic strength. Further details of the Government's Inquiry at:-

That concludes this months newsletter. As ever, we aim to research and inform and so if we can be of further help on this issue, do let us know.