‘Renewables acting like baseload’:  Octopus joins Essex-based £16 Bn pipeline to Morocco


Green mega-investor Octopus is teaming up with Billericay-based energy entrepreneurs seeking to pump renewable electricity from southern Morocco to Britain.

Essex start-up Xlinks announced in September its £16 billion plan to harness wind- and solar-generation from the west African nation’s deserts, and pump it back to north Devon via the world’s longest direct current (DC) link.

The aim of Xlinks’ project for Britain, in the words of its founder, former McKinseys consultant Simon Morrish – pictured – , is “renewable energy that acts like baseload power”.

Under the plan, four cables running 3,800 kilometres along the shallow coastal shelf of west Africa, Portugal and under the Bay of Biscay will connect with two 1.8GW National Grid connections at Alverdiscott, near Barnstaple.

Batteries totalling an unprecedented 20GWh/5GW in capacity will be divided between onshore wind and PV farms in southern Morocco’s Guelmim Oued Noun region, and the Devon landing point.

Octopus boss Greg Jackson had invested in Xlinks as an individual, before today committing unspecified amounts of his firm’s cash.  After recent investments by Al Gore’s investment fund and Canada’s biggest public sector pension provider, privately held Octopus is valued at approximately $ 5 billion.

Xlinks’ wind and solar farms, billed as covering Moroccan desert equivalent in area to 200,000 football pitches, will supply 3.6 GW of reliable, clean power to Britain for an average of 20 hours each and every day.

Scheduled to come into operation by 2017, the project is currently in its development stages, with staff undertaking economic, environmental and archaeological impact assessments.

“Just like Webster’s Dictionary / We’re Morocco-bound (*)”

Xlinks is expected to deliver electricity to Britain at £48 per MWh, a price comparable to offshore wind, as per clearing prices achieved in the latest contracts for difference (CfD) reverse auction.

“This investment marks the beginning of the partnership between the two companies, with further investments already under discussion”, said the parties this morning.

“The companies are also exploring potential offtaking rights for Octopus and an agreement that would see Octopus’s proprietary tech platform KrakenFlex being used to increase value to consumers”.

Octopus this morning presented Xlinks’ output as “enough green energy to power about 7 million heat pumps all year round”.    Other estimates re-cast it at around eight per cent of Britain’s annual consumption.

Octopus are seeking to push down retail prices in the nascent heat pump business. Last month the privately held group made a ‘multi million purchase’ of RED, a heat pump manufacturer based in Craigavon, northern Ireland.

Hope, Bing and Dorothy Lamour

Xlinks’ vice chair is Paddy Padmanathan. As CEO of solar generator and water deslinator ACWA, Padmanathan contributes experience of solar and wind generation in north African and desert environments.

Project director in charge of laying the 3,800 km / 2,400 mile power connection is Nigel Williams. He oversaw North Sea Link, the world’s longest subsea interconnector linking Blyth in Northumberland  and Rogaland, Norway, delivering it last year on time and under budget.

To manufacture the required lengths of HVDC cable, Xlinks has created XLCC, a dedicated cable supply system company. It foresees approximately 1,350 new, permanent regional jobs by 2024.

Agreements for factories to be located in Hunterston, site of the shuttered nuclear plant south of Glasgow, and at Port Talbot have been signed; planning applications are under way. Discussions are also taking place for a third factory in the North East.

The parties hold out the prospect of huge economic benefits to both countries involved, with Xlinks bringing green energy and engineering jobs to both the UK and Morocco.

“This project is magic because it’s all proven technology – on a huge and ambitious scale”, enthused Octopus’ Greg Jackson today.

“The renewables revolution has not just begun, it’s now accelerating at an unprecedented pace for the good of people and the planet.”

Xlinks CEO Simon Morrish said: “This partnership presents an enormous opportunity to bring down energy bills significantly and help the UK achieve Net Zero.

“The investment demonstrates the ambition of both Xlinks and Octopus to deliver a cheaper, greener future for the UK public.”

Morocco is setting its sights on becoming a world leader in solar energy. It already boasts some of the world’s largest solar arrays, and is meeting two-fifths of its electricity demand with renewables.

Founded in 2015 by Greg Jackson, the unrelated Stuart Jackson and James Eddison, Octopus claims to be Europe’s largest investor in renewable electricity generation, with £3.4 billion embedded in wind and solar clean tech.  Its allied venture capital arm has backed start-ups such as Zoopla.

  • Note: Morocco binding is a style of book covering, drawing on centuries of traditional Arab leatherwork to protect hard cover volumes.


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