After a year of consultation with industry professionals and with contributions from experts across the GGI Ecosystem, the Principles for Interconnectors document was launched at COP28.
Speaking at an event with industry leaders, policy makers and government officials, the UK’s Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, Graham Stuart, said “this living document will provide a starting point for policy makers and developers seeking to develop new electricity interconnector projects, drawing on best practice examples from the North Sea and around the world.”
Minister Graham Stuart, launching the Principles at an event on North Seas Transition at COP28
What are interconnectors and why are they important?
In a piece for the GGI’s Why grids? blog series, Chief of Section for Energy Connectivity at UNESCAP, Matt Wittenstein, defined an interconnector is any grid infrastructure that connects two or more power systems operating under different legislative, regulatory and/or system operation regimes. While interconnectors make up only a small portion of the total amount of grid infrastructure within a power system operator’s purview, even a relatively limited amount of cross-border connectivity, can bring real benefits, allowing system operators to jointly take advantage of larger and more diverse power systems than any one country or jurisdiction could develop on its own. Interconnected systems are able to more effectively and efficiently react to changes in supply, which in a high-renewables world becomes increasingly weather dependent and therefore harder to predict. Interconnectors can help manage peak demand through the sharing of surplus supply and reserves and they can also give developers access to regions with high and growing demand, increasing the economic case for developing new generation. Interconnectors can therefore enable the more cost-effective and secure integration of higher shares of renewable energy and other low-carbon resources – a feature that will be key to achieving the target of tripling renewables globally by 2030, endorsed by more than 130 countries at COP28.
The challenge with interconnectors
One of the most significant obstacles to progress with development of interconnectors is the scale and complexity of the task. There is not an absence of interest or ambition, yet the processes involved (inter-governmental agreements for planning, integration into existing regulatory regimes, cost sharing and cost recovery as well as feasibility studies, stakeholder engagement, regulatory compliance, etc.) are long and complex.
As Matt writes, governments facing this array of complicating factors may reasonably choose to focus instead on domestic grid development, where these factors are easier to manage. But doing so to the exclusion of interconnector development means power systems must manage entirely with domestic resources, which can in turn make the energy transition more challenging and more expensive in the long-run.
The GGI with contributions from across it’s global Ecosystem of experts, has developed a guide for governments to help them effectively develop and leverage interconnectors, reducing the complexity and providing pathways through obstacles to progress – the Principles for Interconnectors.
The Principles are built around the lifecycle of an interconnector, which can broadly be broken down into four stages:
2. Project development
Each stage contains a number of steps or sub-stages, from preliminary feasibility studies at the earliest part of the concept stage, to agreement on cost-sharing and financing modalities at the development stage, to implementing effective operating protocols after the project has been fully commissioned, and finally, ultimately, safely decommissioning the transmission infrastructure at the end of its life. Taken as a whole, the Principles aim to be useful for projects regardless of where they are in their lifecycle, whether it be just a line drawn on a map, or an existing transmission line whose use must be reconsidered in the context of a rapidly evolving power system.
Each principle contains case studies and, where relevant, references tools that may be useful to support their implementation. Ultimately, however, the Principles are a living document. They will continue to evolve and grow over time, based on target country and outside expert feedback, and on their real-world application.
In a meeting in Bangkok in February 2024, members of the GGI Asia-Pacific Working Group and relevant regional stakeholders will gather to review the principles and deliberate a way forward for interconnection in the region. Specific interconnector projects will be discussed with a view to defining a new work programme for the GGI in the region, where the Principles can be applied to enable progress on specific projects.
You can access the Principles for Interconnection on the GGI Resources page here.