Icelandic Dreams?

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Reuters today reports that Iceland is considering building a subsea cable from Iceland to the UK. The gist of it is that there is far more geothermal and hydro energy in Iceland than its people need, and exporting it makes sense. Another media report from a couple of days ago said it was really just “pipe dream.”

So, who is right?

As a benchmark it’s probably good to compare it with the cable that exists from Norway to Holland. The more expensive an Iceland-UK cable is relative to this, the less feasible the cable would be.

Let’s begin by considering distance. The Iceland-UK cable is proposed to be about 1,000 to 1,500 kilometres long. This is almost twice as long as the Norway-Holland cable, so all things being equal the cable will probably cost about twice as much as the Norway-Holland one.

All things aren’t equal however. Reuters reports that the cable will be in depths of up to 3,000 metres. I was pretty sure this was wrong, and as shown below there is actually an almost direct path from Iceland to the UK with a sea bed depth of no more than 1,000 metres. (Circles are regions where sea bed depth is less than 1,000 metres.)


I can’t find the official proposed route, however the Guardian ran a story a few months ago that goes through the corridor above. The route North of the UK makes sense. Sticking to shallower water is probably be cheaper, and based on a research cruise I was on in the region going via the Faroe Islands will make weather conditions less of an issue.

This route however goes direct to England, so is about 3 times longer than the Norway-Holland one. This is far more likely than the northern tip of Scotland, so I’ll just assume it’s 1,500 km long.


The Norway-Holland cable, however is in much shallower water. This is the cable route.


The map below shows which parts of the North Sea are less than 100 metres deep, and it is pretty much the entire route of the cable.


In contrast consider how much of the route from Iceland-UK is less than 100 metres.


Weather conditions are also likely to add significantly to the costs relative to the North Sea cable. Overall, then you probably expect that the cost of an Iceland-UK cable is maybe six times that of the Norway-Holland cable. This doesn’t rule it out of course, but I expect their proposal to have it up and running by 2020 will require the UK to be willing to pay a pretty heft price for the electricity.


8 thoughts on “Icelandic Dreams?

    Mark Brinkley said:
    January 9, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    You write: Let’s begin by considering distance. The Iceland-UK cable is proposed to be about 1,000 metres long.

    Perhaps a quit edit would help matters.


      Robert Wilson said:
      January 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm


      I rarely on my readers to correct my typos.


        Mark Brinkley said:
        January 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm

        No problem, Robert. I’m enjoying your blog and your tweets. I’m @slopingsite


        Robert Wilson said:
        January 9, 2013 at 8:32 pm

        Thanks Mark

        Actually I’m a reader of your blog. I didn’t notice that you were following me on Twitter.


    Vinny Burgoo said:
    January 10, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    How did you do the bathymetry plots and is the software+data freely available for free?


      Robert Wilson said:
      January 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      Thanks Vinny. I used the software package R. It’s best to use R Studio:

      The code for producing it is below. Though you will want to change the line that reads the data in to something else. The link below should give data that is useable. Mine was ncdf data that’s a pain in the ass to get in the desired format.

      ##### Script for Plotting depths ####
      bath <- read.csv("", sep= ",", header = F)
      names(bath) <- c("Longitude","Latitude","Depth")
      UK -20 & bath$Longitude 50 & bath$Latitude < 70,]
      Deep -500,]
      plot(Deep[,1],Deep[,2], col = “black”, type = “p”)
      map(“world”,add = T, fill = T, col = “green”)


    Vinny Burgoo said:
    January 10, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Ah! R. Thanks, but I haven’t done any programming since the ’80s.

    I might grab the bathymetry anyway, though.


    James Thurber said:
    February 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Why are water depth and surface weather important factors?


Comments are closed.