Subsea power cables help connect Scotland’s island communities

Shetland Telecom installing the first ever fibre optic link to the island of Yell

A partnership between Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) Distribution and Shetland Islands Council is supporting a project to connect island communities with fibre optic broadband for the very first time.

Three of SSEN’s submarine electricity distribution cables connecting mainland Shetland to the North Isles of Yell and Unst are now not only delivering power to local homes and businesses, but are also helping to enable the rollout of superfast fibre broadband to 21 public sector sites including schools, medical centres and council buildings.

Shetland Islands Council established the Shetland Telecom Project in 2009 to undertake a significant step change in telecoms provision in Shetland. In recent months the council has been deploying fibre optic cables to public sector sites in Unst and Yell as part of the UK Government’s Local Full Fibre Network programme.

Last week, Shetland Telecom announced it had completed the first ever fibre optic link to the island of Yell by utilising fibre cores in the SSEN submarine electricity distribution cables. The new link will complement the soon to be commissioned high capacity microwave radio link between the islands.

As part of the partnership, nine of SSEN’s electricity substations across the isles will be connected via Shetland Telecom’s fibre network, providing SSEN’s teams with remote visibility of the electricity distribution network powering the islands.

In the long-term, fibre connectivity to SSEN’s infrastructure will provide the opportunity to detect and prevent faults before they occur and enable the faster restoration of supplies during power cuts. Remote visibility of this local infrastructure has the potential to minimise disruption to local homes and businesses and improve the service SSEN provides to its customers.

Prior to submitting marine licence applications to replace the subsea cable between Mossbank and Yell and two cables between Yell and Unst, SSEN sought feedback from customers, local communities and stakeholders, with widespread support for any cable installation method which would enable additional connectivity to the islands.

Gavin McBain, Operational Technology Fixed Link Manager at SSEN Distribution, said:

“We are delighted to work in partnership with Shetland Telecom to enable access to subsea cables connecting mainland Shetland to the North Isles. This will provide multiple benefits for the local community, enabling broadband services to critical community sites and improving the service SSEN provides to homes and businesses across the islands. As more subsea fibre is installed in and around Shetland, we hope we can build on this partnership to help connect island communities for years to come.”

Councillor Alastair Cooper, Chair of the Shetland Islands Council’s Development Committee, added:

“In a rural community like Shetland it is vital that all stakeholders work together. This partnership with SSEN has provided fibre infrastructure on a route which we simply could not have achieved ourselves and will ensure high capacity resilient connectivity for Yell and Unst.”

SSEN is responsible for 454km of submarine electricity distribution cables powering fifty-nine Scottish islands and also connects the Isle of Wight to its network in central southern England. The network operator is investing to replace around 90km of its subsea cable network by 2023 to ensure a robust and resilient power supply to the island communities it serves.

About the author

Van on rural road

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks

We're responsible for maintaining the electricity networks supplying over 3.8 million homes and businesses across central southern England and north of the Central Belt of Scotland. We own one electricity transmission network and two electricity distribution networks, comprising 106,000 substations and 130,000 km of overhead lines and underground cables across one third of the UK. Our first priority is to provide a safe and reliable supply of electricity to the communities we serve in Scotland and England.

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