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Technology no barrier to supergrid

Our chariman Graham Watson addressing the European Parliament

Brussels: No technological constraints exist to the building of a supergrid linking renewable energy sources within Europe and beyond, stressed experts at an event co-organised by the Climate Parliament in Brussels last week.

Indeed, China is even considering importing electricity produced from solar power all the way to the country from the Sahara, participants heard at the conference, entitled The Transmission Grid Europe Needs and held in the European Parliament.

Installing cables across Europe and with its Mediterranean neighbours – topping up and not replacing electricity produced from renewables domestically - is the only way of weaning the region off fossil fuels. This is because linking clean energy sources ensures installations are always in use, evening out differences in supply and demand and allowing perilous fossil fuels to be switched off.

Technology “is not the show stopper” to making the supergrid a reality, said Magnus Callavik of Friends of the Supergrid and power company ABB at the event. The topic “is not the major challenge” chimed Philipp Godron, director of regulation markets for Dii, which has carried out feasibility studies on cross-Mediterranean connections.

High Voltage Direct Current lines carrying up to 8GW over 2200km are already in operation in countries such as Brazil and China, said Callavik, revealing that the FOSG supergrid roadmap containing the latest data on developments for HVDC cables and other vital technologies is now on or ahead of schedule. The Mediterranean region holds a high potential for both the production and consumption of renewable energy, Godron demonstrated. Interconnections are what make renewable technology most worthwhile for countries, but transmission line rights for this need to be secured for longer periods, he stressed.

Against a backdrop of climate chaos, North Africa is getting ready to export clean energy but Europe is not yet ready to import, noted Climate Parliament secretary general Nick Dunlop. Rather than directly subsidising imports from the consumption side, public finance sources could invest in a vital issue for their national security and accept a delayed return as the price of electricity falls in future, he proposed. Meanwhile, in a stark reminder of the importance of political will in getting renewables on stream, Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace presented a recent report demonstrating that the EU could source 77% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030 if it wanted to. Yet “billions” of euros could be lost if these sources were at times switched off due to some countries failing to pursue renewables, he warned.

In another eye-popping presentation, the State Grid Corporation of China (SSGC) chairman Zhenya Liu spoke of his company’s ambition on interconnections - including targets to have more than 20 high voltage lines in place by 2020 able to carry 1440 GW of electricity, as well as continuous reductions on transmission loss.

One HVDC line in China already stretches 1907km across 8 provinces, he reminded – a distance longer than that of the roads linking Italy and the UK, alongside which HVDC cables could feasibly be installed. The SSGC has even carried out feasibility studies for importing electricity to China from the Sahara desert, while enough wind can be found in the Arctic circle to provide the entire world with clean electricity, he revealed.

The supergrid idea sends a common climate sceptic argument - that renewables are too intermittent -“into smoke,” stressed Climate Parliament director Sir Graham Watson, predicting ‘substantial progress’ on the topic of interconnection in the coming months and years.

The Climate Parliament will reconvene its Brussels group of parliamentarians in September to examine opportunities for legislative initiatives towards that goal.

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