Friday, July 27, 2012
More French Power Flowing to Britain in Time for Games
CALAIS, France (Reuters) - Paris may not have won its bid to stage the 2012 Olympics, but France is doing its bit for the London games, supplying electricity through a 70 km-long under-sea link that has been upgraded just in time for Friday's opening ceremony.
The 90 million euro ($110.70 million) upgrade to the more than 25-year old power connection between Folkestone, England and Sangatte, France, was completed last week, after two years of work on the ageing and outage-prone cable link.
"This is an investment for the next 25, 30 years, it had to be done anyway. But our objective was to be ready for the Games," said Dominique Houdard, North-East director of the French grid operator RTE, at a press trip this week.
With a capacity of 2,000 MW, enough to supply the needs of 2 million people, the IFA 2000 connection started transporting electricity between Britain and France in 1986, plugging the British Isles to the continent's power grid for the first time.
At the time, 45 kms (28 miles) of copper cables had to be laid 1.5 meter deep in the soft, limestone seabed of the Channel by a subsea robot. At each end, an inverter plant converts the regular, alternating current into more transportable direct current.
"France was in overcapacity and a big exporter of electricity in the 1980s and 1990s, so England was a welcome market, while England was gaining access to cheaper electricity without having to build plants on its soil," Bruno Baronian, project manager at RTE, told reporters.
Until 2000, the flow was almost exclusively towards Britain, but RTE and Britain's National Grid opened the capacity to competition in 2001, and flows from Britain to France now account for about a third of total volumes.
In 2006, a year after London was awarded the Olympic Games, RTE and National Grid decided to upgrade the interconnector, which had about 30 incidents every year, with French turbine maker Alstom being picked for the renovation work.
RTE invested 50 million euros, and National Grid about 40 million euros, RTE's Baronian said.
Over the last two years, half of the capacity was cut during work that took place in the spring and summer of 2011 and 2012, maintaining the full 2,000 MW output in the winter, when power consumption is at its peak.
In practical terms, new converters -- sparkling new metallic structures equipped with about 2,000 valves --, cooling systems and a command control were installed in the huge, red-concrete Mandarins inverter plant near Calais.
The whole installation is now ready to supply French electricity to British homes in time for the 800-MW increase in power demand expected by Britain's National Grid on Friday night, when millions of Britons will turn on their telly to watch the opening ceremony masterminded by Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle.
($1 = 0.8130 euros)
(Additional reporting by Karolin Schaps in London; editing by James Jukwey)