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Xlinks looks to Europe as UK-Morocco deal stalls

Xlinks intends to generate power for 7 million UK homes from its $18bn solar and wind farm in Morocco Unsplash/Bill Mead
Xlinks intends to generate power for 7 million UK homes from its $18bn solar and wind farm in Morocco
  • Renewable energy firm plans to power UK homes from Morocco
  • Government turmoil has delayed £18bn project
  • Xlinks now in talks with unnamed European country

Xlinks is in talks with another European country to develop a second renewables project, as it awaits final sign off from the British government on its planned first venture to supply seven million British homes with Moroccan solar and wind power.

“There will be an announcement very shortly, but we’ve already set up another company and it is funded to work on the feasibility of a new project in another European country,” Simon Morrish, founder and CEO of British renewable power company Xlinks, told AGBI on the sidelines of this year’s International Energy Week held in London this week.

Morrish would not identify the country, but said conversations for the potential Xlinks 2 project had started a year ago, and added that it is being funded by German partners.

While Xlinks 2 is an entirely separate project from that announced for the UK, Morrish said it would be of a similar size, although the development timelines may vary. He did not confirm whether the second project would also source energy from Morocco.

“It is probably an additional two years on the proposed UK project timelines, although depending on how quickly the latter moves, it might catch up with the UK,” he said. 

The proposed £18 billion ($20 billion) Moroccan solar and wind farm had been lauded as a game-changer in boosting the UK’s renewables supply, given it would be capable of providing eight percent of the UK’s electricity requirement carbon-free. 

However, progress on the project has stalled due to recent British political turmoil.

“The political upheaval that the UK was contending with last year wasn’t very helpful to our progress,” said Morrish. “We’ve had three energy ministers in the last 12 months so that doesn’t provide continuity.” 

AGBI contacted the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to provide an update on the project. A spokesperson said: “The UK government has increased the amount of renewable energy capacity connected to the grid by 500 percent since 2010 – with 40 percent of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewable sources.

“We continue to support more renewable projects and are in early stage discussions with Xlinks about their proposal.” 

According to the British Energy Security Strategy, the government is exploring opportunities for international projects to support the country’s energy system.

Initial plans for the Morocco-UK project show that Xlinks would install almost 12 million solar panels and 530 wind turbines across a 370 square mile area of desert in Morocco’s Guelmim-Oued Noun region and then transfer the power they generate to the UK via the world’s longest undersea electricity cable. 

The aim would be to deliver electricity to more than seven million British homes by 2030, with the first phase of the project slated to go live in 2029. 

Seeking government guarantee

In an interview with British newspaper The Times in November last year, Xlinks’ executive chairman Sir Dave Lewis, who served as CEO of Tesco from 2014 until 2020, warned that talks with the UK government were “frustratingly slow” and said the company would have to consider alternatives if Britain did not commit.

“There are countries in Europe that are actively looking for the sort of project we’re offering the UK government,” he said. “The central question is: does the UK government want to be at the leading edge of what is happening here?”.

Morrish noted that what sets Xlinks apart from other UK energy projects is that it helps to diversify the UK energy mix without using any taxpayers’ money. “So, this is a zero-cost option for the government,” he said.

Xlinks last year said it could complete the UK project by 2030 should the government deliver a guarantee in 2023 to ensure consumers will pay a fixed price of £48 per megawatt-hour for the power delivered.

The Financial Times reported this week that UK wind turbine makers have increased their average costs by 20 to 30 percent in the last year, as a result of the rising cost of raw materials such as steel and copper, as well as financing costs.

Despite past frustrations, Morrish said he thinks the likelihood of the UK government signing off on the Xlinks project this year “is very high”. 

“The Moroccan government have been brilliant in their support,” he added.

“Xlinks sits right in the centre of their energy strategy – they want to export green electrons to Europe. So things are coming together but they still could be moving a lot faster in the UK.” 

UK energy company Octopus Energy Group has already invested “a seven-figure sum” in the Xlinks project, with discussions underway for further funding.

Speaking as part of an IE Week panel held on Tuesday entitled “Energy Security – what needs to be done?”, Morrish said that Europe had been lulled into a false sense of energy security over the last decade. 

“Europe has married itself to Russian gas and we’ve seen over the last year the issues that has caused,” Morrish said.

“Xlinks’ primary goal is to help the world address climate change. But a very close secondary one is about improving energy security. 

“In the next 15 years, we will start to see energy cables criss-crossing oceans in the same way that we currently have data cables. 

“I disagree that fossil fuels are the answer to helping address energy security,” he said.

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