New research from Finland’s Lappeenranta University of Technology has revealed that a cross-border European super grid based on decentralized renewable energy supply is the least cost option to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement while also addressing significant obstacles for a functional European Energy Union.
The Lappeenranta University of Technology has for a long time now been studying the idea of 100% renewable energy powered super grids spanning large swathes of the planet. To name just a few, the University has already published results which highlight the potential case for a 100% Russia & Central Asia by 2030; a 100% South America by 2030; a 100% Iran & Middle East by 2030; India by 2050; and its biggest accomplishment, a successful model of a 100% renewable energy planetary system. And in November 2017, on the sidelines of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP23 in Bonn, Germany, LUT researchers showed how a 100% renewable electricity grid is more cost-effective than the current fossil fuel-reliant system.
Published last week in the journal Renewable Energy, LUT researchers coordinated by Professor Christian Breyer of the LUT Solar Economy group revealed the results of further research — which included discussion on European energy policy by Professor Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) and Hertie School of Governance in Berlin — showing how a combination of decentralized renewable energy generation across the European Union combined with pan-European energy trade through a high volume super grid would provide the optimal pathway to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement while also addressing significant obstacles for a functional European Energy Union.
The study compared two scenarios — one which simulated 20 regions of Europe acting as independent energy “islands” and a second scenario which simulated power interconnections between the regions. The scenarios were modeled out to 2050 and considered the current capacities and ages of power plants, as well as project increases in future demands.
“The results clearly show that the least cost solution is based on domestic and decentralised supply with cross-border trade, as this reduces the total electricity system cost from 69 €/MWh in 2015 to 51 €/MWh in 2050,” said Christian Breyer. “A substantial economic benefit through cross-border trade is worth 26 b€ per year, by trading only 12% of total end user electricity demand in Europe.”
“A SuperSmart approach respects the unique contributions that different regions of Europe can make while adhering to a clearly defined target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050” added Michael Child, LUT researcher and lead author of Flexible electricity generation, grid exchange and storage for the transition to a 100% renewable energy system in Europe.
The resulting SuperSmart scenario presented by LUT represents a compromise between two European Energy Union approaches that have been floated of late — a decentralized Smart Grid approach, and a centralized, regulated Super Grid approach.
“The results of our modelling and analysis of policy instruments suggest that a compromise between the two extremes, or a SuperSmart approach, can be an optimal solution to both problems” states Michael Child. “Both technologically and in terms of energy and climate policy, Europe must be viewed not only from the top-down, but national and regional contexts must be properly considered.”
“Important are the framework conditions that Europe must set so that the share of renewables can grow rapidly. Every country should move as quickly as possible towards a full supply of renewables” states co-author Claudia Kemfert. “The study shows that the switch to a full supply by renewables is not only possible, but also strengthens the economy and generates innovations and technological advantages.”
The study also takes into account elements not always addressed in other modelling studies, such as the role of prosumers which, according to the study, if accounted for in terms of their impact on the amount of energy that flows through the centralized grid, would reduce necessary peak interconnection capacity by 6%, thus reducing costs. Energy storage can also be expanded dramatically, with batteries providing short-term storage and other technologies providing necessary seasonal balance.
Flexible generation can also be supported by utilizing geographic complementary generation, such as connecting the high levels of solar PV generation in Europe’s south and wind generation in Europe’s northwest to the larger pan-European grid, thus reducing overall variability.
Science such as that published by the Lappeenranta University of Technology is vital for the goals of the Paris Agreement to be met, and to continue to spur climate ambition and innovation. I asked Christian Breyer to comment on the way in which LUT is seeking to publicize its work: “A new window of opportunity opens currently: the #FridayForFuture movement, as expressed by Greta Thunberg last Thursday in Brussels, clearly states that politicians shall listen to what scientists have to say,” said Breyer. “As scientists we can only agree. We offer our results on all levels we can offer, via media, via direct contacts, via events in Brussels or European capitals, and via scientific publications, which will later on again considered by major reports such as from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Later on we may even have some impact on the reports of the International Energy Agency, which sometimes follows scientific insights several years later.”
In the end though, a great deal needs to be done to better amplify the work being done by scientists and researchers to drown out the money being paid into anti-climate lobbying campaigns.
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