Submarine power cable

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Cross section of the submarine power cable used in Wolfe Island Wind Farm.

Submarine power cables are major transmission cables for carrying electric power below the surface of the water.[1] These are called "submarine" because they usually carry electric power beneath salt water (arms of the ocean, seas, straits, etc.) but it is also possible to use submarine power cables beneath fresh water (large lakes and rivers). Examples of the latter exist that connect the mainland with large islands in the St. Lawrence River.

Design Technologies[edit]

Most power systems use alternating current (AC). This is due mostly to the ease with which AC voltages may be stepped up and down, by means of a transformer. When the voltage is stepped up, current through the line is reduced, and since resistive losses in the line are proportional to the square of the current, stepping up the voltage significantly reduces the resistive line losses. The lack of a similarly simple and efficient system to perform the same function for DC (such devices as did exist, for instance the rotary converter, being less efficient and requiring considerably more maintenance) made DC systems impractical in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As technology improved, it became practical to step DC voltages up or down, though even today the process is much more complex than for AC systems. A DC voltage converter often consists of an inverter - essentially a high-power oscillator - to convert the DC to AC, a transformer to do the actual voltage stepping, and then a rectifier and filter stage to convert the AC back to DC.[2]

DC switch gear is also more expensive to produce, since arc suppression is more difficult. When a high voltage AC line is switched off, the voltage will arc across the switch contacts. Once the contacts get far enough apart, the arc will naturally extinguish itself since the voltage drops to zero twice during the AC sine wave cycle. Since DC is constant and doesn't cycle to zero, a DC switch will draw a much longer arc, and suppressing this arc requires more expensive switching equipment.[3]

DC power transmission does have some advantages over AC power transmission. AC transmission lines need to be designed to handle the peak voltage of the AC sine wave. However, since AC is a sine wave, the effective power that can be transmitted through the line is related to the root mean squared (RMS) value of the voltage, which for a sine wave is only 0.7 times the peak value. This means that for the same size wire and same insulation on standoffs and other equipment, a DC line can carry 1.4 times as much power as an AC line.[4]

AC power transmission also suffers from reactive losses, due to the natural capacitance and inductive properties of wire. DC transmission lines do not suffer reactive losses. The only losses in a DC transmission line are the resistive losses, which are present in AC lines as well.

For an overall power transmission system, this means that for a given amount of power, AC requires more expensive wire, insulators, and towers but less expensive equipment like transformers and switch gear on either end of the line. For shorter distances, the cost of the equipment outweighs the savings in the cost of the transmission line. Over longer distances, the cost differential in the line starts to become more significant, which makes high-voltage direct current (HVDC) economically advantageous.[5]

For underwater transmission systems, the line losses due to capacitance are much greater, which makes HVDC economically advantageous at a much shorter distance than on land.[6]

Operational submarine power cables[edit]

Alternating current cables[edit]

Alternating-current (AC) submarine cable systems for transmitting lower amounts of three phase electric power can be constructed with three-core cables in which all three insulated conductors are placed into a single underwater cable. Most offshore-to-shore wind-farm cables are constructed this way.

For larger amounts of transmitted power, the AC systems are composed of three separate single-core underwater cables, each containing just one insulated conductor and carrying one phase of the three phase electric current. A fourth identical cable is often added in parallel with the other three, simply as a spare in case one of the three primary cables is damaged and needs to be replaced. This damage can happen, for example, from a ship's anchor carelessly dropped onto it. The fourth cable can substitute for any one of the other three, given the proper (and complicated) electrical switching system.

Connecting Connecting Voltage (kV) Notes
Mainland British Columbia to Texada Island to Nile Creek Terminal Vancouver Island / Dunsmuir Substation 525 Reactor station at overhead crossing of Texada Island. Two 3 phase circuits - Twelve separate oil filled single phase cables. Shore section cooling facilities. Nominal rating 1200 MW (1600 MW - 2hr overload)
Tarifa, Spain
(Spain-Morocco Interconnection)
Fardioua, Morocco
through the Strait of Gibraltar
400 The Spain-Morocco Interconnection consists of two 400-kV, AC submarine cables operated jointly by Red Eléctrica de España (Spain) and Office National de l'Électricité (Morocco); the first began operating in 1998 (28 km long), the second in 2006 (31 km long).[7] The total underwater length of the cables through the Strait of Gibraltar is 26 km and the maximum depth is 660 meters.[8]
Mainland Sweden Bornholm Island, Denmark, Bornholm Cable 60
Mainland Italy - Sicily Italy-Sicily 380 Under the Strait of Messina, this submarine cable replaced an earlier, and very long overhead line crossing (the "Pylons of Messina")
Germany Heligoland 30 [9]
Negros Island Panay Island, in the Philippines 138
Isle of Man to England Interconnector 90 a 3 core cable over a distance of 104 km
Wolfe Island, Canada Kingston, Canada 245 The 7.8 km cable installed in 2008 for the Wolfe Island Wind Farm was the world's first 3-core XLPE submarine cable to achieve a 245 kV voltage rating.[10]

Direct current cables[edit]

Name Connecting Body of water Connecting kilovolts (kV) Undersea distance Notes
Baltic-Cable Germany Baltic Sea Sweden 250 kilometres (160 mi)
Basslink mainland State of Victoria Bass Strait island State of Tasmania, Australia 500 290 kilometres (180 mi)[11]
BritNed Netherlands North Sea Great Britain 450 260 kilometres (160 mi)
Cross Sound Cable Long Island, New York Long Island Sound State of Connecticut [citation needed]
East–West Interconnector Ireland Irish Sea Wales/England and thus the GB grid Inaugurated 20 September 2012
Estlink northern Estonia Gulf of Finland southern Finland 330 105 kilometres (65 mi)
Fenno-Skan Sweden Baltic Sea Finland
HVDC Cross-Channel French mainland English Channel England very high power cable (2000 MW)
HVDC Gotland Swedish mainland Baltic Sea Swedish island of Gotland the first HVDC submarine power cable (non-experimental)
HVDC Inter-Island South Island Cook Strait North Island 40 kilometres (25 mi) between the power-rich South Island (much hydroelectric power) of New Zealand and the more-populous North Island
HVDC Italy-Corsica-Sardinia (SACOI) Italian mainland Mediterranean Sea the Italian island of Sardinia, and its neighboring French island of Corsica[citation needed]
HVDC Italy-Greece Italy Adriatic Sea Greece[citation needed]
HVDC Leyte - Luzon Leyte Island Pacific Ocean Luzon in the Philippines[citation needed]
HVDC Moyle Scotland Irish Sea Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and thence to the Republic of Ireland
HVDC Vancouver Island Vancouver Island Strait of Georgia mainland of the Province of British Columbia
Kii Channel HVDC system Honshu Kii Channel Shikoku in 2010 the world's highest-capacity long-distance submarine power cable (rated at 1400 megawatts). This power cable connects two large islands in the Japanese Home Islands
Kontek Germany Baltic Sea Denmark
Konti-Skan Sweden Baltic Sea Denmark[citation needed]
Neptune Cable State of New Jersey Atlantic Ocean Long Island, New York 64 miles (103 km)[12]
Skagerrak 1-3 Norway Denmark (Jutland) 3 cables - 1000 MW in all
SwePol Poland Baltic Sea Sweden
NorNed Eemshaven, Netherlands Feda, Norway 450 580 kilometres (360 mi) 700 MW in 2012 the longest undersea power cable[13]

Proposed submarine power cables[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Underwater Cable an Alternative to Electrical Towers, Matthew L. Wald, New York Times, 2010-03-16, accessed 2010-03-18.
  2. ^ "Introduction to Modern Power Electronics" By Andrzej M. Trzynadlowski
  3. ^ "The electric power engineering handbook" By Leonard L. Grigsby
  4. ^ "Advances in high voltage engineering" By D. F. Warne, Institution of Electrical Engineers
  5. ^ "High voltage direct current transmission" By J. Arrillaga
  6. ^ "AC/DC: the savage tale of the first standards war" By Tom McNichol
  7. ^ "A Bridge Between Two Continents", Ramón Granadino and Fatima Mansouri, Transmission & Distribution World, May 1, 2007. Consulted March 28, 2014.
  8. ^ "Energy Infrastructures in the Mediterranean: Fine Accomplishments but No Global Vision", Abdelnour Keramane, IEMed Yearbook 2014 (European Institute of the Mediterranean), under publication. Consulted 28 March 2014.
  9. ^ "Mit der Zukunft Geschichte schreiben". Dithmarscher Kreiszeitung (in German). 
  10. ^ "Wolfe Island Wind Project". Canadian Copper CCBDA (156). 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Bright Future for Long Island
  13. ^ The Norned HVDC Cable Link
  14. ^ "Cyprus group plans Greece-Israel electricity link". Reuters. 2012-01-23. 
  15. ^ Transmission Developers Inc. (2010-05-03), Application for Authority to Sell Transmission Rights at Negotiated Rates and Request for Expedited Action, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, p. 7, retrieved 2010-08-02 
  16. ^ Territory study linking power grid between Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ "Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Praise, and Backing" article by Matthew L. Wald in The New York Times October 12, 2010, Accessed October 12, 2010
  19. ^ "Lower Churchill Project". Nalcor Energy. 
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ Carrington, Damian (2012-04-11). "Iceland's volcanoes may power UK". The Guardian (London). 
  22. ^ "Agreement to realize electricity interconnector between Germany and Norway", Statnett 21 June 2012. Retrieved: 22 June 2012.
  23. ^ "Statnett and National Grid confirm plans to move forward with the world’s longest electricity interconnector", Statnett 21 June 2012. Retrieved: 22 June 2012.

External links[edit]