How BritNed is advancing transition and driving energy security in the UK and the Netherlands 

Since becoming operational in 2011, BritNed has played a key role in the UK’s energy transition by enabling power sharing between the UK and the Netherlands and improving energy security for those on both sides of the North Sea.  

The interconnector was the second in National Grid’s portfolio and its success has helped pave the way for the four further links launched since 2019. The UK is now joined with France, Belgium, Norway and Denmark in addition to the Netherlands.   

Construction on BritNed began in 2008 with a 260-kilometer cable laid in the North Sea between the Isle of Grain in Kent, UK, and Maasvlakte, near Rotterdam. At

Stewart Whyte, BritNed’s Director of Operations
Stewart Whyte, BritNed’s Director of Operations

either side are converter stations, which span around five hectares in size and use 1200 thyristors to facilitate the conversion between AC and DC. Officially commissioned in April 2011, BritNed is owned and operated by BritNed Development Limited, a joint venture between the Dutch transmission system operator, TenneT, and its UK counterpart, National Grid.  

Stewart Whyte, BritNed’s Director of Operations, joins us to explain how the business supports energy security and transition, as well as reveal its latest investments. “At its core, BritNed facilitates the transmission of electricity between the UK and the Netherlands to allow for the exchange of power,” Stewart opens. “We are an independent company at BritNed, owned 50 percent by National Grid and 50 percent by TenneT. On the National Grid side, we are part of a larger group of six interconnectors operated by National Grid, which collectively aims to increasingly import and export energy from zero-carbon sources. 

“In terms of services, we offer capacity allocation, allowing market participants to reserve transmission capacity on the interconnector, and subsequently nominate power flows between markets, while the flexibility of the asset helps to provide stability of the electricity grid through system operator actions such as congestion management and reserve capacity. 

“Interconnectors have a key role to play in the journey to Net Zero as they enable countries to easily move electricity from where it is in abundance (lower prices) to where it is needed (higher prices) resulting in greener, cheaper and more secure energy for consumers. As we connect more renewable generation to our energy system, interconnectors will become even more important by enabling us to move energy between connected countries and make the most of the power generated.”  

However, Stewart is quick to point out that BritNed’s operations have evolved and adapted to new demands as the energy transition gains momentum across Europe. “In the early days of operation, we mainly imported from the Netherlands to the UK, but this has changed with the growth of renewable energy on both sides,” he explains. “We help grid operators manage excesses and shortfalls, as they can be exchanged to meet demand as required. Currently, we are primarily importing from the Netherlands to the UK during the day due to high solar volumes in the Netherlands. However, at night, the direction of flow usually changes due to the UK’s own generation mix so we then export from the UK to the Netherlands. 

“However, this change in market behavior doesn’t come without its challenges and additional maintenance is needed to ensure the asset is kept in top working condition. Every year, we reinvest millions of pounds in the maintenance of our assets,” he continues. “Typically, this sees us take two planned outages per year, each for one week, with one outage ahead of winter to ensure we can support both countries over the season. We utilize many of our suppliers to support this work, leveraging relationships that span 15 years to get the best advice and quality of work based on a wealth of experience. We also conduct tests to ensure the cable remains safely buried in the North Sea through surveys and reburial activities.  

Britned Interconnectoe converter“With sustainability in mind, we’ve installed new fans and pumps on site to reduce power consumption at our convertor stations, as well as purchasing an all-green electricity contract in the Netherlands to ensure our electricity demand in the country is met by renewable sources.” 

As talk turns to recent investments, Stewart shares further details about the launch of Empire, BritNed’s next-generation allocation and nomination platform, in 2023. “We’ve developed Empire to deliver the functionality, reliability, and flexibility that our customers deserve,” he states. “Drawing on over a decade of our operational experience, Empire delivers unparalleled levels of performance and efficiency within the interconnector sector, providing easier and unique trading opportunities.  

“As a fully integrated interconnector platform, Empire is the single platform for all BritNed trading activities, including participating in auctions, nominating awarded capacity, and managing financial settlements. We placed users at the heart of the design process and user experience experts crafted the exceptionally efficient work environment after careful consideration of its users’ ideal workflows. For instance, Empire features advanced API interfaces to provide greater convenience and efficiency. 

“By replacing fractured, multi-platform workflows with efficient integrated journeys, Empire provides a comprehensive overview of relevant data, supporting faster and more accurate decision-making, and ultimately leading to improved business outcomes.” Stewart continues: “Empire is currently nominated for several awards, and we are very proud of the recognition is it receiving and the improved business outcomes it is helping our customers achieve.” 

With continuous investment and constant improvements, BritNed is sure to continue providing customers with great flexibility, convenience, and control. “Thanks to the highly successful launch of Empire last year, we’re able to deliver innovative new products and updates to the market at pace,” Stewart suggests. “We take a customer-centric approach and continue to listen to what our customers need as the market changes and develops.  

“We recently launched the unique ‘Buy Now’ auction in early 2024, for instance, which is the first Dutch-style interconnector auction of its kind, providing further flexibility and security by enabling participants to acquire capacity before, during, and after the regular Intraday auctions. Also, after a recent survey focusing on customer priorities, we’re excited to be the first UK interconnector to introduce a weekly auction.  

“We continually strive to maintain excellent service levels with our customers as we support both the UK and the Netherlands with security of supply and energy transition,” Stewart concludes. “I am proud to see our team develop innovative ideas and solutions that prioritize the needs of our customers in a landscape that is rapidly changing in the wake of the sustainable energy revolution. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved with energy as the evolution to a greener European energy system continues to gather pace with future developments including offshore hybrid assets. BritNed has been at the heart of connecting Europe for 13 years and will continue to be a vital part of the energy transition, delivering new trading possibilities and world class asset reliability.”