Interconnections supporting an integrated European power system
Projet européen IFA2
Projet européen IFA2

Interconnections supporting an integrated European power system

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Over a period of nearly 25 years, an integrated, interconnected and interdependent European power system has gradually emerged. Outcome: the European electricity market is one of the biggest in the world! 305 000 kilometres of power lines operating at the same frequency (50 Hz), more than 400 interconnections linking nearly 600 million European citizens. Managed in real time by transmission system operators (TSOs), this interdependence provides security of supply across the continent with each operator having access – when needed – to power-generation capacities located outside of its borders.
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Without European solidarity and the ability to import electricity, European countries could not only suffer from power cuts but also see an increase in their electricity bills and the deterioration of their carbon footprint.
These exchanges also support the development of renewable energy sources, which are – by definition – intermittent and impossible to store, in optimally secure conditions. Last but not least, these interconnections and the resulting market coupling mechanism enable European consumers to benefit from the most competitive prices.

Electrical solidarity across Europe

 

Example: During the extremely cold spells in late January of 2019, electricity imported from neighbouring countries helped to cover peak demand in France at 7 p.m. Conversely, one month later in February 2019, when wind power output dipped in Spain and Italy, it was France that came to their aid, at the same time reporting record export figures by delivering close to one third of instantaneous consumption in France.

This solidarity relies on high-quality interconnections. Located at the crossroads of several European regions, France already has 50 cross-border connections. In order to strengthen the European network, RTE is building new interconnections, thereby consolidating its capacities for exchange with its neighbours. By 2035, RTE expects to have doubled its interconnection capacity.

Cross-border electricity trading

Cross-border electricity trading

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High-tech connections

A large-scale project was commissioned in early 2015: it involves a new, entirely buried direct-current interconnector between France and Spain, 65 km to the east of the Pyrenees. The project features first-of-a-kind technology. The line doubles exchange capacity between both countries, improves their security of supply and rationalises the use of Spain’s significant wind-power output. This ambitious project has been led by RTE and its Spanish counterpart REE, via a joint venture (INELFE). 

The two partners are developing a new direct-current interconnector covering  a distance of 370 km, a large part of it under the sea, taking exchange capacities between France and Spain to 5 000 MW. This “Bay of Biscay” project, which will connect the Cubnezais substation (near Bordeaux) to the Gatika substation (near Bilbao) by 2026, has been labelled a “project of mutual interest” by the European Union.

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Galerie technique - Interconnexion France Espagne
Interconnection France - Spain, technical gallery

Numerous cross-border projects


As far as Italy is concerned, RTE and its counterpart TERNA began work on the construction of the Savoie-Piémont line in 2015. This entirely buried, direct-current line covers a distance of 119 km. The goal is to find a sustainable solution to saturated exchange capacities between France and Italy. By late 2020, this new line – combined with upgrades to the existing network – will increase export capacities by 40% while also doubling import capacities.

Last but not least, work has just started on another sizeable project: Celtic Interconnector, led by RTE and its Irish counterpart EirGrid, will establish a direct-current connection covering a distance of 575 km (approx. 500 km offshore) for the direct exchange of electricity between France and Ireland. With a capacity of 700 MW, this project will connect the north coast of Brittany and the south coast of Ireland. Bringing an end to Ireland’s electrical isolation from continental Europe – an advantage in view of Brexit – this line will be the longest submarine connector from France.