‘Smart’ isn’t enough: Europe’s grid will have to be super, too

Making Europe’s energy grid “smart” won’t be enough to move the continent toward a secure, sustainable electricity system. The EU’s future smart grid will also have to be “super.”

“Over the last 30 years Europe has built a highways network,” Johan Vande Lanotte, Belgian Minister for the North Sea, told attendees at the first-ever “Supergrid 2012” conference this week. “Our priority now must be to do the same for our electricity grids. This is how we will deliver Supergrid.”

A supergrid is needed to help the EU and its member nations meet their goals to decarbonize power supplies and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, according to Friends of the Supergrid, which organized the conference.

A group of various energy and technology companies that includes ABB, GE, Intel, National Grid, Siemens and Vattenfall, the Friends of the Supergrid describes its goal as a “pan-European transmission network facilitating the integration of large-scale renewable energy and the balancing and transportation of electricity, with the aim of improving the European market.”

From a technology perspective, there aren’t any “show-stoppers” to developing a continent-spanning smart grid, said Joe Corbett, head of technical services for Mainstream Renewable Power. Instead, noted Frank Schettler, portfolio manager for HVDC systems and grid access at Siemens, “The development of non-technical key issues will trigger or hold back the market evolution.”

Those non-technical issues include the need for harmonized investments and regulatory procedures on an international scale, as well as for revenue models that work at the multi-vendor and multi-stakeholder levels.

Schettler outlined a three-stage roadmap for getting Europe’s supergrid in place:

  • Between now and 2015 – Older coal-fired power plants and nuclear plants begin to be replaced by renewables; large-scale wind parks are connected to one another; plans to strengthen and expand the existing transmission system get under way.
  • 2015 – 2020 – More large (up to 1,000 megawatts), far-offshore wind farms are built; the phaseout of coal and nuclear power plants continues; work begins to balance and integrate power loads and generation across Europe; connected offshore wind parks are tapped into cross-country links; Europe develops a common grid code to enable system planning on a cross-continent basis.
  • 2020 and beyond – Systems continue to be integrated into a grid that overlays all of Europe; that grid interconnects the continent’s load centers with wind parks and pumped hydro storage facilities in the north of Europe and large-scale solar power plants in the south; planning gets under way to connect Europe with solar power plants in North Africa.

“Europe’s vast renewable energy reserves are a continental resource to be traded in a single electricity market,” said Eddie O’Connor, president of Friends of the Supergrid. “An interconnected Europe will deliver affordable and secure sources of low carbon electricity to consumers who are today penalized by barriers to trade and exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices.”

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