A £600m cable connecting the UK and Belgium’s energy systems is about to be switched on, becoming the first of a new generation of interconnectors that will deepen the UK’s ties to mainland Europe just as it prepares to leave the EU.
The Nemo link is in the final stages of testing and from early 2019 is expected to transmit power over an 80-mile route along the seabed between Richborough in Kent and Zeebrugge, becoming the first new electricity interconnector to the continent since 2011 and the first to Belgium.
Although built with the expectation of the UK mostly importing electricity, in the short-term, Nemo will provide a boost to Belgium.
Six of the country’s seven nuclear plants are offline this winter because of repairs and safety checks, raising fears of blackouts. That means UK power stations will initially be largely exporting via Nemo when it becomes fully operational.
The business secretary, Greg Clark, lauded the project for continuing “close cooperation across borders with our European partners”.
The UK has four electricity interconnectors, one to France, one to the Netherlands, one to Ireland and one to Northern Ireland, with the French and Dutch ones largely importing power.
However, the UK’s rapidly changing energy mix, relatively high power prices and government support – which are backed in Theresa May’s Brexit deal – has set the scene for a rapid expansion in interconnectors.
“As we’re going through the energy transformation, we’ve got a lot of changes in generation. Interconnectors are increasingly important,” said John Pettigrew, the chief executive of National Grid, which has built Nemo with its Belgian counterpart Elia.