This month Europe’s first electricity super-grid dedicated to renewable energy will become a political reality, as part of Europe’s plan to meet its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.
Nine countries will draw up formal plans to link up a super-grid of powerful clean energy projects strung out all around the North Sea in order to ship renewable power to the mainland.
The huge new undersea transmission cable will connect up Scotland’s off-shore wind turbines off the coast of Scotland, and solar from Germany, hydro power from Norway and wave power off the coast of Belgium and Denmark.
The North Sea nations – Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the UK will ultimately connect this planned North Sea super-grid with the equally huge scale Desertec grid bringing continent-scale solar from Africa to supply not only Africa but Europe; bringing it in to Spain and Portugal.
The widely spread-out North Sea grid would solve the “intemittency” problem for wind: one farm may be idled by locally calmed conditions, but when turbines are spaced out far enough, the wind is always blowing somewhere, keeping the power supply stable.
The network of super efficient undersea transmission cables would cost about $43 billion US (€30bn). More than 100GW of off-shore wind energy projects are now under development in Europe, around 10% of European electricity demand.
Because powerful winds discourage settlements, good wind energy resources will always be greatest far from where cities develop. Europe’s success in tapping that resource and connecting it to far away cities will be instructive for the US, if we care to learn in time.
We also have “stranded wind” – enough wind potential to supply 25% of the entire US needs in North Dakota alone, but no major transmission lines to connect up a statewide line of turbines needed to balance out the power, and to send it to population centers.
Our own off-shore wind potential down the Atlantic Seaboard could supply 100% of the electricity needs of people living in the nine states from Massachusetts to North Carolina. A quarter of the US population lives in those nine states.
Image:Flikr user Ben
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