WILHELMSHAVEN (dpa-AFX) - After years of planning, the construction phase has begun in Wilhelmshaven for a first power line more than 700 kilometers long through the North Sea between Great Britain and Germany. The power cable will connect the energy grids of the two countries and ensure flexibility in the transportation of renewable energies, said Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck (Greens) at a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony on Tuesday. "The more interconnected Europe is, the larger the network is, the more efficiently the system can be operated and controlled and the greater the goal of decarbonization, i.e. a climate-neutral electricity supply, can be achieved."

Habeck spoke of a "really big project" that would also connect the two countries' key wind power generation regions. Surplus wind power in particular, which is produced in the German North Sea but cannot yet be transported onshore due to bottlenecks in the electricity grid, could be exported to the UK via the submarine cable. The United Kingdom currently imports more electricity than it exports.

The Vice-Chancellor performed the ground-breaking ceremony together with the British Minister of State for Trade Policy, Gregory Hands, Lower Saxony's Minister for Economic Affairs, Olaf Lies (SPD), and the Chairwoman of the project company Neuconnect, Julia Prescot. Planning for the project began at the end of 2016. Construction work has already started in the UK. The cable, which will run largely through the North Sea, is scheduled to go into operation in 2028.

Neuconnect Chairwoman Julia Prescot said that private sector investment is needed to implement the energy transition - the electricity highway is an example of this. "We are the largest Anglo-German investment project," she said. The investment costs of almost three billion euros are being borne by an international consortium. Participants include the French investor Meridiam, the Allianz Group and the Japanese energy suppliers Kansai Electric Power and Tepco as well as a consortium of more than 20 banks. According to the project company, there will be no state subsidies.

The line, called Neuconnect, will be able to transport up to 1.4 gigawatts of electricity in both directions - roughly equivalent to the output of a nuclear power plant and, according to the project company, enough energy for around 1.5 million households. The 725-kilometer-long cable will connect the German transmission grid from Wilhelmshaven with the British grid on the Isle of Grain in the English county of Kent at the mouth of the Thames.

According to the Federal Network Agency, such electricity highways between countries, also known as interconnectors, can improve energy security and boost competition, which can lead to lower electricity prices. According to the agency, direct connections between electricity markets increase sales opportunities. The countries could thus mutually benefit from the most favorable generation conditions. Germany currently has 54 such interconnectors and 16 more are planned.

Lower Saxony's Economics Minister Lies said that the energy transition also focuses on the north-west of Lower Saxony and the region around Wilhelmshaven. "Without Lower Saxony, the energy transition and achieving the climate targets in Germany would not be possible." It is important that this region also benefits economically. "We also want the locations that will be energy locations in the future, because large quantities of renewable energies are available, to also be locations for further economic development."

The British Minister of State for Trade Policy, Gregory Hands, spoke of a "symbolic moment for both countries". The new power line is a "flagship project" that illustrates how closely Germany and the United Kingdom are working together to make the two economies climate-neutral. "We want to make the North Sea Europe's green energy hub and cooperation between Germany and the UK will be crucial to achieving this."

According to experts, the UK's importance as an electricity market will continue to grow with the electricity link to Germany. "The British Isles are already the second-largest offshore wind market in the world after China," Marc Lehnfeld from the German government-owned company Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI) told the German Press Agency in London. So far, the UK is still a net importer of electricity. However, the British government wants to significantly increase offshore wind capacity from 15 to 50 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. This will also boost export potential, said Lehnfeld.

German companies are also involved in the British offshore wind energy market. "RWE is one of the largest developers in the country with ten current and nine planned offshore wind projects," said Lehnfeld. "EnBW is also currently developing three offshore wind farms on the British coast."/len/DP/tih