While there are a great number of details still to be worked out before a clearer picture of the new grid emerges, a number of concrete proposals are already in the planning.
Alasdair Cameron - RENEWABLEENERGYWORLD
- Jan 14, 2011
Load vs Storage vs Distribution are key elements to plan for --Ed.
In early December 2010, as Europe was grappling with sovereign debt crises and angry protests swept through its cities, a group of Ministers and grid operators met quietly to sign a deal that could help to secure the development of hundreds of gigawatts of renewable energy capacity.
The Northsea Countries Offshore Grid Initiative Memorandum of Understanding is the latest step in an ambitious program to put in place the infrastructure and market conditions to ensure that renewable energy generated offshore can be fed into the grid and brought to where it is most needed. The supergrid is considered an essential step in the development of Northern Europe's offshore wind industry and has the potential to unlock billions of euros in investment in key infrastructure.
An undersea grid as the basis for balancing supplies and demands
At the heart of the plan is a vast series of undersea grid connections stretching down the coasts of the UK, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and possibly even down into Spain and Portugal. This offshore development would be combined with an improved onshore network, a more uniform system of grid management and interconnecting High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cables between countries.
Currently there are around 35-40 GW of offshore wind power capacity in various stages of planning in the UK alone, with many other countries in the region also laying out ambitious plans. Long term, the projections are for more than 169 GW of offshore wind operating in the North Sea by the middle of the century.
While non-binding, the recently signed MOU builds on previous in-principle agreements and seeks to promote cooperation in developing an offshore grid. Currently, there are three working groups set up to examine and tackle the technical, political and regulatory barriers.
We "came together to promote the concept of a supergrid. We have assembled the supply chain: providing the consulting engineers, the manufacturers of the HVDC equipment, the cable manufacturers and so on. We intend to advise governments as to how the supergrid can be rolled out as a single grid, he explained in an interview with Wind Energy Update last year.
A big picture with big challenges
Despite the recent progress there remains a number of unresolved issues over who will own and operate the grid, who will pay for it and who will profit. There also remains the question of political will, since the development of a large offshore grid will revolutionize European energy markets, bringing a single energy market significantly closer than governments have so far been willing or able to do.
While there are a great number of details still to be worked out before a clearer picture of the new grid emerges, a number of concrete proposals are already in the planning. By 2020, RenewableUK estimates that there may be around 25 GW of offshore wind power capacity in UK waters (up from just over 1 GW today).
At the same time there are concrete plans for an additional 6.5 GW of interconnector cables linking the UK to the rest of Europe (at present there are 2.45 GW of interconnectors). The ability to trade large volumes of electricity with its neighbors should greatly enhance the usefulness of the UKs offshore wind resources and overcome the challenges of intermittency associated with wind power.
A video put together by Mainstream Renewable Power on the potential for Europe's supergrid is linked to this article. While its ambitious, if it works as planned, it could give Europe a big advantage in the offshore wind space.