Energy secretary Chris Huhne has launched the first new grid connection to Europe for 25 years, with the pledge that it marks the first step towards a North Sea “supergrid”.
The “Britned” interconnector links the UK with the Netherlands, enabling the flow of 1,000 megawatts of electricity between the two countries, which Mr Huhne said would lead to more competition and lower bills for consumers.
He said the 260 km (160 miles) electricity cable from the Isle of Grain in Kent to Massvlakte near Rotterdam could be the first of many linking European countries.
A new link is already being built to Ireland, and there are plans for undersea cables linking the UK to Norway, Belgium and France.
In the future, Britain could even be connected to Iceland, giving this country access to stable supplies of low-carbon geothermal and hydroelectricity.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change said the interconnector with Norway would allow the UK to import electricity generated by hydropower to help balance our energy system at times when the wind is not blowing.
The connector would also mean we could export excess wind and nuclear electricity to Norway when they need it, because of dry year or overnight to save their water reserves.
Mr Huhne said: “This is the UK’s first interconnector in 25 years. This 260 km cable marks the start of a move towards a true European supergrid, where power from our neighbours can flow into our electricity system and we’ll be able to export too.
“More interconnection helps our energy security, helps us better use the increasing power we’ll get from renewables and helps consumers as increased trading can force prices down.”