The booming business of knitting together the world’s electricity grids - An undersea change
Intermittent renewables and current mayhem in energy markets highlight the importance of firms that link up producers of power with faraway consumers
The Economist - Oct 16th 2021
IMAGINE A TOY boat that might fit in the palm of your hand. At mid-ship add a squat spool of sewing thread lying on its side. Scale that up about a thousand-fold and the result is the 150-metre-long Nexans Aurora. The thread in question is kilometres of high-voltage power line ready to be deployed from the aft of the ship across the sea floor. Each cable, weighing a hefty 150kg per metre and thick as a tree trunk, is a woven mix of aluminium, steel, lead and insulating material. The single stretch loaded up in a bobbin nearly 30 metres across is as heavy as the Eiffel Tower.
The ways electricity is both consumed (more of it, notably by cars) and produced (also more, increasingly through renewable sources, see chart 1) are changing. Balancing energy supply and demand is never easy, as mayhem in European gas markets has shown. It is all the more complex for electricity, which is trickier to store than not just gas, but also coal, diesel or wood chips. Renewables add more wrinkles: wind blows haphazardly; the sun can be obscured by clouds or night. As a result, most of the power that is produced has to be consumed immediately, and mostly in the place that produces it.
The idea of separating consumption from production in time—using giant batteries or other storage—has received plenty of attention from entrepreneurs, politicians and investors. But it is currently impractical at scale. So the notion of separating the two in space instead is gaining ground. It requires an upgrade in the behind-the-scenes wiring that carries power from where it is made to where it is used. The task can involve plugging an offshore wind farm into the grid. Also needed are connections joining up national networks, often within blocs where most of today’s electricity trade takes place, like the EU.
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CLV Nexans Aurora
My footnote to this article is to put on record that Britain once had one of the largest cable makers in the world called "British Insulated Callenders Cables Ltd" known as BICC with factories all over the UK and overseas with the most substantial being Metal Manufactures in Australia. See this report on BICC in 1980 from the respected investment analyst Ray Bowden of Fielding, Newson-Smith & Co.: