While most Europeans enjoy the luxury of taking electricity for granted, the great importance of readily available power is bringing Europe closer together, through the growing interconnection of national power grids. Nemo Link, the first transmission link between Belgium and the UK, allows power to flow in either direction to meet both countries’ needs.
“I was interested in working on the Nemo project since it was going to set a precedent for future interconnectors. This has been an enriching experience for me.”Ernest Nkusi, Technical Project Lead
Forging a powerful link
A joint venture between the UK’s National Grid and Belgium’s Elia Group, Nemo Link is a high-voltage transmission link capable of supplying enough power for up to one million homes. With the ability to trade electricity, consumers in both countries benefit from a larger and more diverse energy mix.
Our engineers collaborated at an inter-European level to construct the converter stations in Herdersbrug in Belgium, and Richborough, in the south-east of England. These facilities house our state-of-the-art HVDC Plus technology that enables the low-loss transmission of electricity through 140 kilometers of subsea and underground cables. We speak to some of our engineers about what was involved in this special project of firsts.
Great pride in working together
As Ernest Nkusi, our Technical Project Lead based in Germany, explains that Nemo Link was the first interconnector to realize the powerful 400 kV DC system for HVDC Plus technology. He was keen to be part of such an ambitious project. “It was very rewarding to see all the pieces of the puzzle working perfectly together,” he says.
At the peak of the construction works, approximately 300 people were employed on both sides on the English Channel. Scott Williams, our Project Lead in the UK, says: “We had a healthy competition between the Belgium and UK sites. Anything we learned was actively shared, but with an aim to 'come first' which could mean finishing a section first, or having the best monthly health and safety statistics, etc.”
On the Belgian side, our Project Lead was Tom Clauwaert. Tom says that the highlight for him was the first energization of the converter station. “Although everything has been checked and double-checked, it is still a nervous moment when you see if it really works. And it did!”
“The pride on the faces of the team was just great to see.”Tom Clauwaert, Project Lead Belgium
The various partners and teams from Belgium, the UK and Germany needed to work together closely. This includes the many subcontractors who perform vital tasks, particularly in construction. Tom emphasizes the importance of this relationship: “I paid a lot of attention to subcontractor management. Along with your own high-tech engineering and supply, you rely on very competent subcontractors.”
In such a complex environment, what is Tom’s secret to getting the job done well? “I set three simple goals for the team in Belgium,” he says. “The health and safety of the people involved. The quality of the work we deliver. And the timing of the work we deliver. Whenever we required a decision, we reverted to those three things. By focusing on simple targets, we automatically achieved higher value.”
Creating a culture of safety
As a company, we have a wealth of experience in realizing large-scale projects all over the world. Even so, Nemo Link stands out for its excellent safety record. “Safety First was our ruling principle,” Ernest says.
In September 2017, Nemo Link reached one million hours worked, with no time lost to injuries. In the same year, the project was awarded the Sword of Honour by the British Safety Council. This prestigious award is only given to companies who excel in terms of environment, health and safety standards.
The high commitment to safety came from the top, with all partners aligned from the outset. The Nemo Executive Safety Board brought together our top management with the client and the major subcontractors. It provided a forum to share cross-company best practices and agree on joint safety initiatives.
“Our relationship with the client and our suppliers was (and still is) one of shared respect, and we acted as one large family.”Scott Williams, Project Lead UK
To underline the importance of safety, the “Come Home Safe” campaign invited the children of the employees to create drawings of mommy or daddy working safely on site. “The idea behind Come Home Safe was to improve our safety culture,” Tom explains. “It makes you reflect on the potential impact of dangerous behavior. I have a five-year-old, and it really took me by the heart.”
The drawings were displayed as beautiful posters on the site, and each of the little artists received a prize. And who knows? The campaign might even have helped inspire the future generation of engineers.
Come together: Integrating Europe’s energy market
When people in the UK or Belgium switch on the lights or plug in their phones, they may never realize they are benefiting from infrastructure that transmits power across borders. But Nemo Link is a significant building block in the broader trend toward the future of energy in Europe: the electricity market is becoming increasingly integrated.
As interconnectors provide more links between national electricity grids, they offer grid operators more options, boosting stability and security of supply for both countries. They may also make the market more efficient, as excess supply in one country can satisfy demand in another.
Stability of electricity grids is becoming more urgent as the role of renewable energy grows. As the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, interconnectors help to even out the intermittent production from renewable resources. Without them, clean energy capacity may go to waste while elsewhere fossil-fuel power is required to make up the difference.
Building toward cleaner energy for all
The UK has set itself the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Other European countries have similarly ambitious decarbonization targets. To achieve those aims, emissions from power generation will have to start falling noticeably over the next two decades. Interconnectors like Nemo Link play a vital role in making that happen.
“HVDC interconnectors are a key component of a renewable energy future.”Tom Clauwaert, Project Lead Belgium
This is a vision of the future that we share. And with that in mind, we are now working on an even more ambitious subsea interconnector. At 767 kilometers, the Viking Link between the UK and Denmark will be the world’s longest HVDC link. It is planned to begin operation in 2023.
Change the future of energy
Tom’s role is just one of our innumerable opportunities to change the future of energy. Join the team around him and make tomorrow different today at Siemens Energy.