Work begins on French-Italy power interconnector

Underground power cable

Underground cable routing Spanish electricity to the French network in the Pyrenees.. []

French power grid operator RTE has started work on a new 190 km power interconnection across the Alps to Italy, in an effort to ease congestion on the existing lines to the largest importer of French electricity.

The 320,000 volt direct-current line will cost about 1 billion euros, spread evenly between RTE and its Italian counterpart Terna, and will be the longest subterranean high-voltage power line when it goes into service in 2019.

With capacity of 1,200 megawatts – roughly equivalent to one nuclear reactor – the line will boost the saturated 2,700 MW connections between the two countries, according to RTE, which is owned by state-controlled French utility EDF.

Last year Italy imported more than 19 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power from France, nearly a third of France’s 65.1 TWh net power exports.

The new Savoie-Piemonte line from Chambery to Turin will run along motorways and use existing tunnels.

Like the new France-Spain line across the Pyrenees, the new France-Italy line runs completely underground to limit the visual impact on the mountain landscape and address public concern over the addition of new electricity pylons.

Boosting electric interconnections between European Union member states is one of the EU’s top priorities to improve security of supply, minimise the impact of the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy and cut electricity prices.

The EU has set a target for all member states to have interconnection capacity of at least 10% of power generation capacity.

The bloc wants to boost interconnection capacity between countries to 15% of generation by 2030. Many countries, including Britain, Spain and Italy, are still well short of that target with interconnection capacity around or below 5%.

>>Read: Energy union aims for elusive 10% power grid interlinkage

RTE and Terna are Europe’s two largest electricity transmission network operators, with grids of 105,000 km and 64,000 km respectively.

RTE declined to say which firms will provide the alternate current-direct current convertor stations and the cable for the new line. For the Pyrenees cable the key suppliers are Siemens and Italian cable maker Prysmian.

European Commission proposals for an Energy Union include a target for 10% interconnection of electricity grids across borders. The EU executive estimates that about €105 billion are required to upgrade Europe’s ageing electricity infrastructure, with €35 billion needed for cross-border interconnections alone.

Interconnectivity – of both gas and electricity grids – is seen as a key for EU member states to wean off their dependence on Russian gas and manage higher shares of variable renewable energy sources.

But the objective, initially decided in 2002, has remained elusive because of entrenched national interests. Twelve EU countries, mainly located on the EU’s periphery, remain below the 10% target. These are:

  • Ireland (9%)
  • Italy, Romania, Portugal (7%)
  • Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia (4%)
  • The United Kingdom (6%)
  • Spain (3%)
  • Poland (2%)
  • Cyprus and Malta (0%)

Special priority will be given to projects that will “significantly increase the current interconnection capacity where it is well below the established 10% objective,” the Commission said, citing Spain and Cyprus as countries where “efforts need to be stepped up”. An existing list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI) will be updated in Autumn 2015.

If everything goes according to plan, some 75% of PCIs are expected to be completed by 2020.

  • Autumn 2015: Commission to proposed updated list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI)
  • By 2020: About 75% of PCIs are expected to be completed
  • 2020: Target date to meet the 10% electricity interconnection objective

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