Plugging the UK into Moroccan renewables: massive undersea cable link wins funding

Article by Adam Duckett

A PROJECT planning to run undersea cables from Morocco to the UK to supply 8% of the country’s power has received £30m (US$37.5m) of investment from Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) and Octopus Energy Group.

Xlinks, the company developing the project, plans to construct four 3,800-km, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cables in the UK. They will run them from a connection on the country’s south coast, out to sea passing France, Spain, and Portugal, and onshore to Morocco to link with a planned, vast solar and wind energy project. The company expects to complete the energy project by 2030, which will involve building a 10.5 GW solar and wind farm covering an area measuring 1500 km2, supported by 20 GWh/5 GW of battery storage. The solar and wind farm will be in the Guelmim-Oued Noun region on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

Greg Jackson, CEO of Octopus Energy Group, said: “This partnership between Xlinks, TAQA, and Octopus enables us to drive forward one of the most visionary energy projects in the world. When people ask ‘how will you power heat pumps and electric cars when it’s not windy?’ – this is a big part of the answer.”

Commenting on the ambitions of Xlinks, Andy Levy, head of projects at the UK’s University of Cambridge, described the project as mind-blowing. In a LinkedIn post detailing the key engineering challenges involved,, Levy noted that Xlinks’ sister company XLCC has commissioned a new cable-laying ship, capable of carrying 13,000 t spools, because the largest currently available is too small. XLCC is also building Scotland’s tallest structure to help manufacture the cables. The 185 m tower will house six extruding machines used to apply insulation to cables. The process has to be arranged vertically to ensure the extruded material cures with a circular profile. The extruders operate at a rate of 1 m/min, and the cooling process takes 180 minutes – hence the height of the tower, which will readily surpass the 127 m Glasgow tower as the tallest structure in Scotland. Planning permission for the tower, which will be built in Hunterston as part of the UK’s first HVDC cable factory, was granted planning approval in June 2022.

Xlinks estimates that its ‘Morocco – UK Power Project’ will provide the UK with 3.6 GW of energy for an average of around 20 hours a day, enough to power more than 7m homes. Morocco’s government has prioritised the development of a renewables energy industry. Last year, it produced 38% of its power from clean sources and aims to increase this to 52% by the end of the decade. With a higher solar intensity (34% solar load versus 11% in the UK) and gustier winds (52% wind load vs 31% in the UK), Morocco is an attractive prospect for renewables, says Xlinks, noting its development of large-scale projects and an abundance of domestic expertise. Xlinks expects its project will create 10,000 jobs in Morocco during construction and 2,000 permanent positions.

Simon Morrish, CEO of Xlinks, said: ““Xlinks’ ambition is to supply British households with secure, affordable, and green energy all year round. With this investment and support from our partners TAQA and Octopus, along with the support received from both the UK and Moroccan governments, we take another step toward achieving that ambition. The huge potential of the Morocco – UK Power Project will help the UK accelerate its transition to clean sources of power, increase energy security, and reduce consumer bills.”

In March, UK energy minister Graham Stuart said the government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has established a dedicated team to consider the viability and merits of the project, and understand how it could contribute to the nation’s energy security.

Xlinks has opened a public consultation in Devon where it plans to connect the cables to the UK power grid. The consultation closes at the end of May.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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