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News about the European Supergrid

Decarbonising the European electricity system is a necessary step to help avoid frying the atmosphere with carbon emissions. It is clear that renewable energy is the right way forward, but needs improved grid technology and a more diverse energy system than delivered by national grids because of the variability of green energy sources such as wind and solar. The EU is committed to an 80-95% reduction in Greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2050. A big task.

One of the most important pieces in this jigsaw is the Supergrid. This is an ambitious plan to link all of Europe’s national grids together, so that solar energy from Spain can heat Scottish tea, and Norwegian hydro-power can boil water for Italian pasta, in periods where national renewables are not able to supply sufficient power.

Fortunately we have the technology for this vision already – linking energy systems above ground and under the sea using low-loss High Voltage Direct Current cables (HVDC) in a smart Supergrid. Earlier this year a major advance was made in the technology. A DC Breaker was invented, which means that DC cables can be isolated for repair or replacement. This means there are now no significant technological impediments to creating the Supergrid.

HVDC cable laying at sea. Photo: ABB
HVDC cable laying at sea. Photo: ABB

Green Jobs Blog interviewed Dr Eddie O’Connor, initiator of the Supergrid concept and CEO of Ireland’s Mainstream Renewable Power company at the Supergrid 2013 Conference. He worries that the major hurdle is not technology but “procrastination” – politicians and policy makers unable to make decisions. “The language of politics is economics, so we are commissioning a major study from the best economic consultants in Europe to demonstrate the advantages of the Supergrid,” he says.

The Supergrid would facilitate the exchange of electricity across borders, and allow a much higher level of integration of renewables into the grid, providing energy security, emissions reduction, skilled jobs, and the potential for exporting the technology.

Marcello del Brenna, President of the umbrella organisation, Friends of the Supergrid, says, “The European Supergrid will contribute to prosperity for all of its 500 million citizens.”

Map showing potential Supergrid connections
Map showing potential Supergrid connections

With a planned Single European energy market in 2014 the Supergrid is moving forward from a concept into an actuality. The first “nodes” – as the junctions of electricity cables are called – will be in seas adjacent to the UK and Ireland, as this is where the most advanced projects are currently. Undersea cables called “interconnectors” will exchange electricity between countries bordering the North Sea and between Ireland and the UK. This is simply a magnification of what national grids do already – shunt electricity from where it is produced to where it is needed.

The Supergrid would mean employment in manufacturing, installation, servicing and administration of the vast new networks, and supporting employment in, for example, catering, building, transportation, and many other ancillary jobs. Marcello del Brenna says, “The members of the Friends of Supergrid employ over one million people across the globe. Supergrid is a huge potential economic success story for Europe. The technology to deliver low carbon electricity into homes and businesses around the world is being developed and manufactured here in Europe. But, lack of action by EU and national governments risks surrendering Europe’s golden opportunity to competitors on another continent.” This is a vision of the future; it involves a large investment, but Supergrid proponents believe the financial cost – let alone the environmental cost – will be lower in the long run than continuing to depend on fossil fuels in an era of scarcity.

Eddie O’Connor’s vision is: “A rational electricity system fuelled entirely by renewables.”

Proceedings from the Supergrid 2013 conference can be accessed from their website:

Friends of the Supergrid

Here’s a video of Jeremy Rifkin addressing the conference on why The Supergrid is Inevitable:

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