A European Supergrid - Energy and Climate Change Contents

Memorandum submitted by Greenpeace


Greenpeace believes that the development of a European supergrid presents a huge opportunity to drive a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The major difference in producing clean energy is that it requires lots of smaller generators, some with variable power output. Some can be located inside the grid, close to where power is used. Small generators include wind turbines, solar panels, micro turbines, fuel cells and co-generation (combined heat and power). The challenge ahead is to integrate new decentralised and renewable power generation sources while phasing out most large-scale, outdated power plants. This will need a new power system architecture. The overall concept balances fluctuations in energy demand and supply to share out power effectively among users. New measures, such as managing the demand from big users or forecasting the weather and using energy storage to cover times with less wind or sun, enable this. Advanced communication and control technologies further help deliver electricity effectively. The key elements of the new power system architecture are micro grids, smart grids and a number of interconnectors or an effective super grid. The three types of systems support each other and interconnect with each other.

1.  What are the technical challenges for the development of a European Supergrid?

Large-scale integration of renewable electricity in the European grid (68% by 2030 and 99.5% by 2050) is technically feasible with a high level of security of supply, even under the most extreme climatic conditions with low wind and low solar radiation.[17] This further confirms the feasibility of a 100% renewable electricity vision. It also strengthens the findings of Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution2, which demonstrates that meeting the demand in 2050 with 97% renewable electricity would cost 34% less than under the IEA's Reference scenario and that by 2030, 68% renewable electricity would generate 1.2 million jobs, 780,000 more than under the Reference scenario.

It is vital that there is a clear priority of access for renewables in a European Supergrid. Currently there are no clear priority rules at the European level, including on the interconnections between countries. For example, wind turbines in Germany currently do not have a priority over nuclear power plants in France in providing energy to the European grid.[18]

As a first priority, national and European regulators should create appropriate framework conditions to enable network upgrades and developments. In addition, to overcome bottlenecks to international transmission, the European Commission should propose financing mechanisms for international transmission projects where the individual business case does not sufficiently reflect the wider economic benefit. Demonstration projects for innovative approaches to onshore grid upgrades and the construction of offshore grids should be supported on the European and national level. These ground-breaking projects are necessary to help develop cross-border networks and test the technical and regulatory conditions.

The European Union should focus on the development of smart grid technology and demand management measures through research and development support, streamlining and standardising technology, and the support of demonstration projects.

2.  How much would it cost to create a supergrid and who would pay for it?

Greenpeace has developed two models of Supergrid: a "Low Grid" model focused on the centre of Europe; Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France and a "High Grid" model incorporating North Africa. (Please see the attached report, "Battle of the Grids" for more details).

"Low Grid"—central europe. This pathway would seek to produce as much renewable energy close to areas with high electricity demand as possible. It is particularly focused on the centre of Europe; Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and France. Solar PV capacity in these areas is increased, even if those solar panels could supply more electricity if installed in the south of Europe. This approach would increase the generation cost per kWh, but lowers the grid investment, which is limited to €74 billion between 2030 and 2050. Security of supply relies less on the electricity grid and long distance transmission. Instead the gas pipelines are used more intensively to transfer biogas from one region to the other, thereby optimising the use of bioenergy as a balancing source.

"High Grid"—north africa. This approach would install a maximum of renewable energy sources in areas with the highest output, especially solar power in the South of Europe and interconnections between Europe with North Africa. This pathway would minimise the cost to produce electricity while increasing the amount of electricity to be transferred over long distances through the grid. The result is a higher interconnection cost (an investment of €581 billion between 2030 and 2050), and strong security of supply 24/7 because the super grid capacity exceeds demand. It also balances solar production in the south and wind production in the north of Europe.

It should be stressed that between these "Low Grid" and "High Grid" scenarios after 2030, there is a large area of feasibility to combine different levels of grid development and renewable capacities. Over the next decade, European policy needs to be better formulated to provide a clearer vision for the energy mix after 2030 period.

3.  Will a supergrid help to balance intermittency of electricity supply?

Power from some renewable plants, such as wind and solar, varies during the day and week. Some see this as an insurmountable problem, because up until now we have relied on coal or nuclear to provide a fixed amount of power at all times. There is a struggle to determine which type of infrastructure or management we choose and which energy mix to favour as we move away from a polluting, carbon intensive energy system.

Some important facts include:

—electricity demand fluctuates in a predictable way;

—smart management can work with big electricity users, so their peak demand moves to a different part of the day, evening out the load on the overall system; and

—electricity from renewable sources can be stored and "dispatched" to where it is needed in a number of ways, using advanced grid technologies.

Wind-rich countries in Europe are already experiencing conflict between renewable and conventional power. In Spain, where a lot of wind and solar is now connected to the grid, gas power is stepping in to bridge the gap between demand and supply. This is because gas plants can be switched off or run at reduced power, for example when there is low electricity demand or high wind production. As we move to a mostly renewable electricity sector, gas plants will be needed as backup for times of high demand and low renewable production. Effectively, a kWh from a wind turbine displaces a kWh from a gas plant, avoiding carbon dioxide emissions. Renewable electricity sources such as thermal solar plants (CSP), geothermal, hydro, biomass and biogas can gradually phase out the need for natural gas. (See Case Studies for more). The gas plants and pipelines would then progressively be converted for transporting biogas.

Lines will be needed especially from areas with overproduction, e.g. south of Europe in the summer, to areas with a high demand like Germany. This allows a more efficient use of the installed solar power. In winter months, the opposite could happen, when a large oversupply of wind power is transported from the north of Europe south to population centres. It is common for both wind speeds and solar radiation to vary across Europe concurrently, so interconnecting the variable renewables in effect "smoothes out" the variations at any one location. Adding more grid infrastructure increases security of supply and makes better use of renewable energy sources. It also means backup capacity in Europe can be used more economically because biomass, hydro or gas plants in one region can be transferred to another region.

4.  What are the implications for UK energy policy of greater interconnection with other power markets?

A European-wide legal framework is required to build and operate a crossborder transmission system. It should include a regulatory approach for international transmission and continue to harmonise network codes. Europe also requires accelerated standardisation of transmission technology to move towards a truly international power system. Cross-border markets for the day-ahead and intra-day trading of power should be introduced to allow for a truly integrated market capable of exploiting efficiencies. At the same time, European energy regulators should allow for the international exchange and accounting of reserve capacity.

5.  Would new institutions be needed to operate and regulate a supergrid?

The planning and development of Europe's power system should be done with an overall view to integrating increasing shares of renewable energy sources. The European Transmission System Operators' (ENTSO-E) Ten year Network Development Plans should reflect the renewable energy forecasts in line with the Renewable Energy Directive.

At the same time, an independent European body should be created to oversee and coordinate European grid planning and developments. Its tasks should include also the development and analysis of long-term scenarios and network development options.

March 2011

17   See Greenpeace 'Battle of the Grids' Report, 2011, (http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/Battle-of-the-grids/), pg. 5.  Back

18   Ibid. pg. 21.  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 22 September 2011