An Icelandic economist believes the UK could finance an ambitious project to connect Iceland and the UK with an undersea power cable, exporting electricity to Britain. The idea has been years in the making and is not without its logistical problems.
In the wake of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Iceland, RÚV reports that both he and Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson have assembled separate work groups to weigh the pros and cons and building an undersea cable that would connect Iceland and Britain, with the former exporting electricity to the latter. The results of both work groups are expected to be made public in about six months.
The idea has not been without controversy, and Sigmundur was quick to offer assurances that the project would neither lead to increased energy prices nor decreased jobs for Icelanders. Investor and economist Hreiðar Guðjónsson, in addition, believes Iceland might not even have to foot the bill for the project.
“[The British] are potentially ready to finance this and be like any other lessee,” he said. “Just like an aluminium smelter, to pay for the cable and be a customer, just like with an aluminium smelter or any other heavy industry.” Hreiðar added that cold winters in Britain could increase the demand for such a cable, leading Iceland to export electricity “just like we send them fish”.
The idea of an undersea cable connecting Iceland and Britain has been bandied about for years now. Former British Minister of Energy Charles Hendry was particularly enthusiastic about the idea, saying in 2012 that “We will be dependent on imported energy”, and that the cables “are an absolutely critical part of energy security and for low carbon energy.”
Be that as it may, an undersea cable between the two island nations would be a tremendous undertaking. Unnur Stella Guðmundsdóttir, an engineer for the Danish company Energy Net and an expert in cables, pointed out in 2012 that cable would be about 1,000 to 1,500 kilometres long – the longest in the world. Second, it would lay about 1,200 metres below the surface of the sea. Only one cable is deeper – the one between Sardina and Italy, at about 1,600 kilometres, but is also not nearly as long as the proposed Iceland-UK cable.
In 2013, Minister of Industry Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir expressed concerns about the financial viability as well.
The government estimates that 75% of Iceland’s energy is undeveloped, according to Bloomberg. Hydropower accounts for about 73% of electricity production and the rest is generated from geothermal sources. About 39% of the available geothermal energy, which taps the earth’s heat, is used to make electricity.