What is the Supergrid?

Supplying renewable electricity worldwide

LONDON (RPRN) 7/16/2009–This month the G8 Summit agreed the first steps towards a significant global strategy on climate change by agreeing that global warming temperatures should not exceed 2C of 1900 levels and that member nations will work towards an 80% reduction of green house gas emissions by 2050. The USA has taken a major step-change in its attitude towards the climate and President Obama who chaired the discussion stressed that the issue of climate change could no longer be ignored and that we should look towards December and Copenhagen.

This is positive news for the environment and energy industry. It shows a real commitment at last, by the world’s most powerful nations to act to arrest global warming and this commitment can only add to the industry’s growth. But how are we going to supply the world with renewable energy?

When Dr. Czisch first published his ideas outlining a European ‘Supergrid’ a few years ago, in which he explored a concept to supply the continent’s electricity demands by using only the renewable energy technologies that are now available, the world didn’t take much notice. However now, European policy-makers, as well as the global business community, are gradually taking note of the significance of his ideas.

Mark Vidler, Energy Group Manager at Allen & York Environmental Recruitment took the opportunity to speak to Dr Czisch on a recent visit to the UK:

Mark Vidler – What is the Supergrid and why is it important to us?
Gregor Czisch – We are faced with the fact that Renewables are not steadily producing; there are fluctuations depending on where you are in the world, what the climate is, whether it is summer or winter for example. In the longer term we need steady, smooth production of energy which can be employed to cover the demand at any time. In order to achieve this to best effect it is important to expand the range of energy sources, to have a strong mix of climate zones and to expand the km2 of land for wind and solar energy. In summary the creation of a Supergrid, a place where ‘the world’ could feed its renewable energy into, would solve the problems of source intermittency and smooth out the production to a consistently high level.

MV – Who will be the main beneficiaries?
GC – The main beneficiary is the climate, because the Electricity sector is currently emitting about 50% of the world’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels. The Supergrid – preferably a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Transmission System – will only be fed by renewable energy sources and would therefore ‘clean’ the environment significantly.

Consumers would also benefit, firstly because it would be cheaper and because they are getting fully renewable electricity.

Lastly the economies of some countries would benefit. If we think about establishing wind and solar farms in Africa for example, then there could be investment made in these countries and so they could profit from an extra growth in their economy and significantly reduce their unemployment by exporting parts of their energy to European countries.

International corporate business would also benefit as they have the potential to invest in global energy production and fight climate change which could ultimately be very costly for them.

MV – What in your view is preventing this from happening?
GC – There are many players, firstly the decision makers – The first applications for the concept of the renewable Supergrid – as it resulted as being the best solution from my research – were made in late 2001 and it has been very difficult get the facts in front of the politicians to create awareness and crucially to give them the correct information on the huge potential of this shared international and intercontinental grid.

The utility companies, who have their own grids and own production, often resist strong links to other countries and competitors. Consequently they will not lead on this at least not as a fast approach, however I believe that if the politicians lead the corporate organisations would have to follow and ultimately might also benefit.

Ideologists and de-centralists are also looking at this from a ‘small is beautiful’ perspective and nothing else. They fight the large scale renewables, which are sometimes far away from the consumer, believing the home grown production is better.

MV – How financially viable is this?
GC – There is a simple answer. If the international system is properly designed the costs of renewable electricity are not higher than the today’s costs of electricity. Therefore it basically is absolutely viable.

A key to this is provision of capital outlay provided by financial backers such as governments and corporate business. An internationally agreed feed-in tariff (e.g. the amount of money a renewable energy producer is paid for the energy they supply to the grid) that guarantees that the costs of production and transmission are covered would be extremely helpful to attract investment. If you have good tools for investment based on loans renewable electricity will be cheaper than supply from oil, gas and coal with their fluctuating prices.

MV – Do we have the right skills?
GC – All the necessary technology is there, some parts have to be adapted to the highest HVDC voltage available today e.g. the circuit breaker necessary for a meshed HVDC system. Another engineering project will be developing the cables for this voltage to connect under the sea between countries. However, no crucial part of the technology is missing and there is no question that we have the right skills for the job.

GC – Really it is all about co-operation between energy supplies and political backing groups and countries. Increasing awareness and knowledge are crucial and I am confident we are moving in the right direction. If I could make one change now it would be the introduction of an international feed-in tariff, which I believe would make a huge difference.

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