Energy lifeline as giant cables linking UK to Morocco gets cash boost

Autumn Statement: Jeremy Hunt outlines further energy support

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A huge clean energy project which aims to transfer electricity between Morocco and the UK via giant cables has attracted a new investor in a major boost for the initiative, which could provide an extra lifeline as Britain scrambles to wean itself off expensive fossil fuels, the price of which has sent bills soaring. The Xlinks Morocco-UK Power Project involves sending a low-cost, reliable energy supply generated by renewables via the world’s longest underwater cables, which once complete could power up to 7 million homes in the UK.

The project, which will see four 3,800km long cables connecting Britain to a solar farm in Morocco, is yet to start construction but has been dubbed a “first of its kind” development. 

In a significant boost for the plans, Conenergy, a German investor in the European energy market has made a multimillion-pound investment into the project. As part of the deal, Conernergy has struck “financial and strategic” partnership with Xlinks to collaborate on the initiative.

Roman Dudenhausen, Conenergy’s founder and CEO, said: “It is bold, innovative, and sustainable and we think represents a game changer on the way to European energy security from renewables. Needless to say, we are extremely happy to be a financial and strategic partner to Xlinks and its team. Further joint projects are already under discussion.”

Xlinks will combine solar and wind generation assets with energy storage facilities, connected exclusively to the UK through the HVDC subsea cables with a combined capacity of 3.6 Gigawatts at the receiving end.

The project is set to become operational by the end of the decade and could supply seven millions UK homes with clean power for an average of 20 hours a day by 2030, satisfying around eight percent of the country’s electricity needs. 

Speaking on the new deal with the German firm, Simon Morrish, CEO of Xlinks, said: “We look forward to partnering with con|energy, who bring their sustainability-led, solutions-driven approach to the energy world. Their investment in us demonstrates the growing confidence the markets and our industry have in the project and the benefits it will bring.”

The entire project is expected to take four years to produce, costing around £16billion, half of which is for constructing the cable. Morocco has become one of the dominant players in the solar industry, capitalising on its geography as it has one of the highest rates of solar insolation – or power per unit area – on the planet.

Xlinks also argues that Morocco also benefits from ideal the solar and wind resources needed to develop renewable projects that could guarantee power production year-round. This could help out the UK when the sun doesn’t shine and wind does not blow, an issue typically arises in Britain that threatens to make its green energy output lower. But thanks to the four huge cables that will link Morocco to the UK, it may not need to rely on ideal weather conditions for cheap clean, energy any longer.

Project Director for XLCC, Alan Mathers, said: “We look forward to delivering a factory of great local and international importance for HVDC subsea cable. The UK will be positioned as a world leader in the green economy, with the site at Hunterston playing a key role in connecting cheap, green energy from renewables projects around the world. We would like to thank the local community for their support during the consultation process.”

This comes as the price of gas and electricity have soared due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, which battered supply chains, while the Russian President’s supply cuts to Europe also laid bare Britain’s vulnerability to the volatile global market. 

To escape Russia’s clutches on the energy market, which has had a huge knock-on impact on bills, with the price cap is set to reach £3,000 from April. But supporters of renewable energy say that boosting green homegrown sources could cut bills and boost the UK’s energy independence, which could help to eventually free the country from the current crisis.

For instance, an analysis by the Carbon Brief found that the Government had granted a number of contracts to offshore wind farm producers to generate electricity at an average price of £48 per megawatt hour (MWh). This is nine times cheaper than the £446/MWh current cost of running gas-fired power stations.

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The Government’s energy strategy, unveiled back in April to help push Britain on a path to “energy independence”, also involved a huge drive for clean, homegrown energy sources. 

In his foreword to the strategy, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote: “Global energy costs have been rising for some time as demand soars and factories roar back into life after COVID-19; Putin’s invasion of Ukraine pushed them still higher and, ultimately, it is the consumer who ends up paying the price.”

He later added: “But if we’re going to get prices down and keep them there for the long term, we need a flow of energy that is affordable, clean and above all secure. We need a power supply that’s made in Britain, for Britain – and that’s what this plan is all about.

“We’re not going to try and turn back the clock to the days when we choked our streets and our atmosphere with filthy fumes and ever-rising levels of climate-imperilling carbon dioxide. Instead, we’re going to take advantage of Britain’s inexhaustible resources of wind and – yes – sunshine.”

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