A NEW OPTION FOR THE ENERGY CRISIS! – THE SUPERGRID!

At their recent Conference, NCW members heard of another option available for the energy crisis facing us. Despite present financial difficulties, our country needs to increase its supply of renewable energies and we were delighted to learn of recent research into a Super-Grid which would link together all available forms of renewable energy, to include tidal power, solar power, wind power and biomass.

This energy could be gathered in all areas of Europe, North Africa, Western Asia and Arabia and would produce a much more consistent supply than is obtainable from a single source. Scientists in Europe are already working on this concept and in Africa the hydropower potential of the River Congo is being studied.

Obviously such an innovative undertaking will be expensive. However the annual cost for the new installations would equate very nearly to what is currently spent upon the present energy system investment in fossil and nuclear fuels.

FULL PRESENTATION AT CONFERENCE 2010

THE SUPERGRID 

This presentation was inspired by a Resolution at the 2009 annual conference of the United Nations Association UK and an article in “The New Civil Engineer”, followed by a search of the Internet, but the majority of the information has been provided by Dr Gregor Czisch, the scientist who leads the research on this project.

The need for renewable energy is now universally understood and every means of producing energy at an affordable price is being pursued: the BP oil spill has emphasised diminishing fossil fuels.

Scientists in Europe are already working on a very wide concept – to link together all forms of renewable energy: hydro-power, solar-power and wind-power, operating from Siberia to Senegal, including the deserts of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsular, tied together and using a high voltage direct current (HVDC) network – a grid superimposed on the existing electricity grid. Under this system, with a proper mix of renewable energies and a Super-Grid infrastructure embracing Europe, Siberia and Northern Africa, electricity could be provided to all countries in the area at a lower cost than at present, freeing the system from fossil fuel with no impact upon the environment.

An interesting and somehow similar development in Africa is based on the enormous hydropower potential of the River Congo, close to Inga, where a single hydropower station could deliver about two thirds of the whole African electricity demand at a very low cost. Several African countries are joining together to build up “power pools”, aiming to make common use of these potentials within an all-African power pool using a continental Super-Grid.

Europe and other regions have already accepted the need to accelerate the delivery of Super-Grids and renewables to reach a fully decarbonised power system by 2050 and meet targets. However, there is another school of thought: Dr Czisch considers – based on his research on a totally renewable electricity supply for Europe and its African neighbourhood – that this is too slow in respect of the possibilities on the one hand and the threatening climate change on the other hand, and that the aim should be for a fully renewable supply and the enabling Super-Grid to be in place in about twenty years’ time: the longer time frame would be more expensive because an intermediate system would be necessary to cope with the lifetimes of the components of the existing fossil system. It is interesting to note that a European Directive was issued in 2009 to allow the import of electricity generated from non-EU countries in order to arrive at the aimed quota of 20% of the EU energy consumption provided from renewables by 2020.

The integration of large amounts of renewable energy sources in the grid is possible with current technologies, but policy makers need to lead the transformation by securing the necessary legislation on support mechanisms and regulatory reform. There are indications that private investment would be available if the ‘host’ countries gave their full support. These investments would need to be protected by an adequate legal and regulatory framework.

Energy policy is increasingly characterised by diminishing fossil fuel resources, rapidly expanding energy demand, and increasing prices, coupled with the threat of climate change. With this in mind, the European Union has elected to increase the use of renewable energy, but the potential for renewable energy in Europe is limited and unevenly distributed.

One option is to utilise the enormous potential for solar and wind energy in the deserts of North Africa. A renewable Super-Grid would use High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) technology to transmit renewably generated electricity over vast distances between points in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Europe.

Although the opportunity exists to harness all forms of renewable power across Europe, the deserts of Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsular, there must be rules and agreements but they do not necessarily need to involve every country in the area. The system could be built step by step and there could be bilateral and trilateral approaches. Some coordination would be welcome in order eventually to draw all the threads together. International energy and climate experts and the European Climate Forum (ECF) report that the transformation of the power sector would address energy security and supply concerns while decarbonising electricity generation – and at the same time contribute to a substantial reduction in energy poverty.

This study formulated a policy roadmap towards a goal of achieving a 100% renewable power sector in Europe and North Africa. The researchers studied the market in terms of financial, infrastructure and government policy milestones for policy makers and business. The roadmap addresses four critical areas of intervention: Policy, Markets, Investments and Infrastructure. Political leadership is the key element for achieving the vision. It has the ability to foster a stable, long term and transparent regulatory framework that will promote confidence with investors and enable the build-up of the required supply chain and grid infrastructure.

This is obviously going to be a huge undertaking, and cost some money. However, it should be borne in mind that the power stations and the Super-Grid could be installed gradually over twenty years and the annual cost for the new installations would equate very nearly to what is currently spent upon the present energy system in terms of investment and fossil and nuclear fuels.

Setting this dream in motion will involve continuing and great diplomatic efforts from many countries. It will be a tremendously exciting enterprise as, quite apart from the obvious advantages, the effect on the work for world peace of many nations working together for their mutual benefit is almost unimaginable. The possibilities of this important development cannot be ignored by an organisation such as the National Council of Women.

Presented by Lois Hainsworth, MBE, FCIJ, FRSA
October 2010