Nicola Medalova, managing director interconnectors, National Grid Ventures Energy networks, Generation, Interconnection, Policy & regulation, Wind, Opinion, National Grid

Since the beginning of March, we have all been shocked by the brutal invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military.

As Europeans, we have perhaps taken it for granted that the sorts of conflicts that have caused immense suffering elsewhere in recent years were a relic of our past, forever banished to the 20th Century.

The UK and Europe, along with the US, have been quick to react, but Ukraine’s tragedy has provided a stark reminder of the influence of Russian gas in Europe’s energy mix.

The EU Council last month set out its intention to phase out the bloc’s dependence on Russian gas in the next five years, in part by speeding up the transition to renewable energy and low-carbon hydrogen. The UK government’s energy supply strategy, published today, highlights the future role of the North Sea, while increasing offshore wind and nuclear targets.

I was at COP26 last November, where National Grid hosted a breakfast reception to highlight the immense potential of the North Sea to become Europe’s renewable power station. The speeches from ministers, regulators and industry leaders that morning were unanimous in highlighting the critical role of North Sea wind in helping the UK and Europe reach net zero.

North Sea wind will now also play an important role in reducing the influence of Russian gas. Our analysts have calculated that each additional gigawatt of offshore wind can help us displace around 0.7 bcm of Russian gas. That means reaching the UK and Europe’s combined 100-gigawatt offshore wind target by 2030 can help us displace an additional roughly 60 bcm of gas. This is equivalent to a 40% reduction in Russian gas imports. But achieving our targets will not be easy.

This week I’m in Bilbao, at WindEurope’s annual conference, where Europe’s wind industry has convened to discuss how we can work together to accelerate the delivery of offshore wind this decade. One potential solution is multi-purpose interconnectors (MPIs).

At National Grid, we have been working with several European partners to identify the best technology, locations and regulatory models for MPIs – hybrid assets that connect clusters of offshore wind farms to multiple countries with subsea high voltage direct current interconnectors.

Bringing offshore wind and interconnector assets together makes sense. As well as maximising the deployment of renewable generation and speeding up connections, using interconnectors in a smarter way could reduce the amount of grid reinforcement needed and help to mitigate the impact of new infrastructure on local communities.

In December, Ofgem took the positive step of announcing a pilot scheme for MPIs, based on the existing Cap & Floor regime that has successfully delivered significant investment in new point-to-point interconnector capacity. In the coming weeks we look forward to working with Ofgem, along with other industry participants, to explore ways to speed up the delivery of a pilot MPI project pre-2030 to enable us to ‘learn by doing’. This could establish a platform for further investment in MPIs to achieve UK offshore wind targets, while improving system security.

But neither the UK nor EU can do this independently. And I am convinced that we will continue to work well together, particularly as we share the same values and have similarly ambitious climate and energy targets.

That’s why I am proud that National Grid this week signed a joint statement by European governments, power transmission operators, wind developers and technology providers to commit to work closely on the expansion of offshore wind in Europe.

This means working together to enable efficient cross-border electricity trading, coordinate maritime spatial planning, streamline consenting, while ensuring we protect and deliver benefits to communities all around the North Sea.

We have less than a decade to deliver five times the amount of offshore wind we have deployed in the last 30 years, and along with it three times the amount of electricity interconnection to meet our 2030 climate and energy targets. While at the same time, helping to break Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. For all of us, 2030 starts today.