Can GB count on electricity from Norway when we need it?
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The Norway interconnector: NSL

At the time it began operation in 2021 NSL was the longest under-sea electricity cable in the world.

The 725km cable links Blyth in Northumberland with Kvilldal in Norway.

The NSL Link was described as "two countries working together to maximise their renewable energy resources for mutual benefit."

More specifically the link was said to "allow the UK to swap wind energy for Norway's hydropower".

The link even won awards, including the EEI International Edison Award for the link that "allows the UK and Norway to share renewable energy".

How well has it been working?

In the early days that GB started importing power from Norway (about 700MW for a while, now about 1400MW) the availability of that power was very good.

From Sep 2021 when we first received 700MW to Feb 2022 and beyond it was almost always one-way traffic, exceeding 1GW for much of the time.

But from Dec 2021 things were changing, and we were starting to export power more frequently, and in the early months of 2022 exports were becoming more and more common.

Why?

The fundamental reason given at the time was falling levels in Norway's reservoirs, as reported here.

One important consequence of this is sumamrised in the words of Norway's oil and energy minister Terje Aasland: "When there is little water in the hydroelectric water reservoirs, Norway will come first".

Imports from Norway cannot be seen as a reliable supply to either satisfy GB baseload demand or to deal with demand peaks.

Sarvsfossen dam in Norway

But there's quite a lot of "deception" going on here ...

Many of the linked items above describe the NSL Link as allowing GB and Norway to "exchange renewable energy", or more specicially "exchange hydro from Norway with wind from GB".

The National Grid even won an award on that basis.

Whilst it seems clear that Norway provides GB specifically with 100% clean hydro, how is it possible that GB supplies Norway with renewable energy, and specifically wind energy?

How is the GB "end" of the link at Blyth set up so that it only exports renewable energy?

NSL station

Is GB really exporting excess renewable energy?

And if you think it must be, consider this.

On Monday morning 1 August 2022 GB was exporting about 1GW to Norway but all GB wind was only generating less than 0.5GW.

GB was burning a lot of coal, and it was generating about twice as much as all wind was.

And - as always - GB was relying heavily on CCGT Gas.

In what way was GB "exporting excess wind power"?

Is it really true that GB has been and is only exporting excess renewable energy?

Table shwoing exports to Norway via NSL

NorthConnect?

You may have heard of plans for a second interconnector between Norway and GB called NorthConnect.

In March 2023 Norway's government rejected these plans amid a debate on the country's energy independence and whether it should be exporting electricity.

You can read more about the decision here.

Note also the decision to reduce the capacity of the existing NSL link from 1.4GW to 1.1GW.

NSL News

August 2022: UK braces for even higher bills as Norway threatens electricity export cut

Water levels in southern Norway are so low that domestic electricity consumers may be prioritised over international customers.

As reported here Norway is threatening to ration electricity exports.

The oil and energy minister, Terje Aasland, told the Norwegian parliament on Monday that refilling dams will be prioritised over power production when levels fall below the seasonal average.