Planning solutions and proposals for routes, gates and land fall points

MSP is a crucial tool in the process of proposing routes for cables and locations for gates and land fall points. Not only because it takes into account the current status quoof offshore energy and grid development but also any future trends and scenarios. It can also facilitate planning solutions to spatial conflicts. However route proposals need to be site-specific to take into account the different planning processes and criteria in the NSR countries, as well as country or site-specific spatial obstacles. Planning and proposing routes and locations for grid infrastructure requires marine planners to work in close collaboration with industry and other stakeholders in order to find effective routes and gates for interconnectors. Industry stakeholders, for example, can advise on future energy trends and technology advancements which will influence planning. This coordination and stakeholder involvement needs to occur at an early stage in the planning process.

In terms of proposals for land fall points, in general the NSR needs more landfall points in order to meet future needs. The requirement for more landfall points goes hand in hand with the requirement for increased electricity and interconnection demand. Most landfall points are already over-capacity for example, in Scotland and in Germany. As a general observation, there are more landfall points in the Southern North Sea compared to the Northern North Sea which reflects the geographical distance between the UK and the rest of Europe. There is especially a lack down the east coast of the UK, in particular Scotland’s east coast and also on Germany’s North Sea coast. These areas could be proposals for more landfall points, especially because the UK and Germany are two of the main producers of offshore wind energy. However the location and number of landfall points is related to the grid solution or configuration applied, with generally more land fall points being required for radial compared to meshed or integrated grid. Therefore more landfall points are required now because of the fact that most North Sea wind farms are currently radially connected to shore, however this may change in the future if and when a more coordinated and integrated offshore grid is implemented. 

With reference to gates, so far only the German MSP authorities have implemented gates as a method for planning cable routes. It has not been explored if this method is also effective for other NSR countries but the German Spatial Offshore Grid Plan is certainly an example of best practice for grid planning and there is potential for it to be replicated in other countries such as Scotland. 

In terms of proposing interconnectors in the NSR, the UK and Germany require more interconnectors in order to meet the 2020 and 2030 interconnection targets and therefore these should be a priority for the benefit of a more interconnected NSR. Considering route proposals for interconnectors, Germany along with Belgium and the Netherlands already have designated cable corridors or priority areas within their marine plans, but Scotland does not have any designated routes for interconnectors. There is currently less demand for space in Scotland’s marine area of the Northern North Sea, and therefore interconnector route proposals are of less importance at this time. However there is interest in Scotland to develop an offshore grid plan to compliment it’s National Marine Plan and therefore this can act as a mechanism for proposing interconnector routes to boost Scotland’s interconnection levels. In order for marine planners to propose effective routes for current and future grid requirements, they could benefit from industry reports on route proposals. 

With regards to grid solutions and configurations, many studies have debated radial versus meshed or integrated offshore grid in the NSR. An initial findings report produced by NSCOGI in 2012 aimed to evaluate grid configuration and the long-term development of an offshore grid structure in the North Sea [2].The report weighed up the options of continuing to ‘go it alone’, or by ‘doing it together’. This means that NSR countries either continue with nationally connected offshore generation or move towards a type of shared or integrated grid design which supports cross-border flows of energy and transnational cooperation. Possible electricity transmission system designs (as seen in Figure 8), grid simulations and scenarios such as the ‘reference scenario’ are discussed in great detail and with future predicted changes to electricity energy requirements at the forefront. The report leans more in favour of the benefits of a meshed grid, however it also highlights the unknown risks associated with meshed grid. The report also includes chapters called ‘country-specific comments’ which discuss some industry proposals for interconnector routes and grid connection points on land which are useful from a planning perspective. These or similar studies could be used as an indication of routes in conjunction with spatial conflict analysis studies to further refine cable routes. 

There is also the BEAGINS study which compares radial versus meshed grid solutions from an environmental point of view. The study recommended a meshed grid solution as the reduced footprint of nearshore cabling utilising the meshed solution has greater potential, in combination with sensitive siting, to reduce habitat displacement and avoid sensitive coastal sites [23].

 Overall, it appears that the best practice proposal for grid solutions is a meshed or integrated offshore grid from a coordinated planning, increased transnational interconnection and environmental point of view. However it is also noted in the NSCOGI report that despite the quantifiable costs and benefits associated with meshed approach to grid design, there are less quantifiable implications such as added complexity, increased technology risk, challenges of operating an integrated DC grid and the need for significant regulatory adaptation [2]. Nevertheless, there is still the EU ambition for an integrated single energy market which may be the over-riding driver in the development of an integrated North Sea offshore grid.