Look! On the ground! Under the water! It's....SUPERGRID!!!

IFTF's Future Now blog directs us to an interesting article at Technology Review: "A Supergrid For Europe".


Last month a Dublin-based wind-farm developer, Airtricity, and Swiss engineering giant ABB began promoting a bold solution to the continent's power grid bottlenecks: a European subsea supergrid running from Spain to the Baltic Sea, in which high-voltage DC power lines link national grids and deliver power from offshore wind farms. When the wind is blowing over a wind farm on the supergrid, the neighboring cables would carry its power where most needed. When the farms are still, the cables will serve a second role: opening up Europe's power markets to efficient energy trading.

As Homer Simpson might say, "Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter."

The result would be a more integrated and thus more competitive European market, delivering power at lower prices. And it would enable Europe's grid to safely accommodate even more clean, but highly variable wind power. That accommodation will be needed because the European Union has set a target of 21 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and much of this will come from wind farms. "The primary benefit of the supergrid is that it aggregates wind power across geographically dispersed areas, and, by doing so, it smoothes the output of those wind farms," says Chris Veal, the Airtricity director promoting the supergrid. "If the wind isn't blowing in the Irish seas, it's likely to be blowing in the North Sea or the Baltic. The wind is always blowing somewhere."

I'm always suspect of sentences like the first in this paragraph. Integration in a loose sense, like the building of a firm, might help defray various costs, but in the case of countries means more "integration" often results in larger opportunity for rent-seeking and political mismanagement. This is especially true in the case of the EU where the penchant is to make political leaders (elected and not) in charge of anything that happens to cross boundaries, resulting in bad policies that major players can ignore with impunity. To wit, the Stability Pact.

The project does sound fascinating. One of the issues I'd always heard raised against wind power is the variability which would get coupled with the stresses placed on the infrastructure from periods of peak demand (highly variable supply with spikes in demand doesn't seem like the best mix for an overall base of energy). And the general tone of the piece implies that it is heavily driven by commercial interest. Right up to the end, that is:

The challenge is to get the supergrid onto the policy agenda. Because it's a big-energy concept, Czisch says, it runs counter to the thinking of many renewable energy advocates, who he believes prefer to see renewable energy as local energy sources, such as solar panels on rooftops. "You would have to build huge high-voltage DC lines, huge wind-power plants in Morocco, and so on. This is something that could easily be done by the big utilities -- but the utilities are the enemy of the renewables people," he says.

Airtricity's Veal is hoping to get some help from the European Commission, which just released a proposal for an integrated European energy policy. "We're not going to solve all of the EC's problems," Veal says, "but we can be a major contributor."

Allow me to rephrase: "Sure, it's a great idea that companies may like, but since the profit motive is the world's greatest sin, what we really need are government mandates and the public's money."



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This page contains a single entry by published on March 15, 2006 3:37 PM.

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