Is 100 Renewable Possible By 2050 Interconnectors

This episode of Real Engineering is brought to you by Curiosity Steam. Sign up today and get free access to my new Logistics of D-Day series on Nebula. This year the European Union announced an unprecedented 1 trillion euro Green Deal Investment Plan with the goal of bringing the entirety of Europe's energy generation to 100% renewables by 2050. [1] An ambitious goal that has been echoed throughout the world. [2] It is of-course possible to shift our energy generation from the current mix of fossil fuel generation, nuclear and renewables to 100% renewables in just 30 years. The technologies exist. That 1 trillion euro can go a long way to achieving this goal and in this new Real Engineering series we are going to explore the type of projects this Green Energy Plan will help fund. To give ourselves the best chance of achieving that goal, hamfisted good will endeavers to increase renewable percentages need to be avoided. We discovered with previous investigations [3] into California’s move towards solar energy, that without careful analysis it is incredibly easy to waste millions upon millions of dollars on renewable energy resources when they are not properly integrated into the grid. California has to disconnect a huge portion of their solar panels from the grid in the summer months because there is no demand for the electricity they produce. [4] The wasted power is continually rising as more and more solar panels are installed with a record high curtailment of 190 thousand MegaWatt hours wasted in April 2019. Enough to power 17,300 homes for an entire year. [5] Wasted energy is wasted money. But what if I told you that this waste could have been avoided without the need to expensive energy storage. In this episode we will explore the planned European supergrid. The primary reason California curtailed that sickening quantity of power last year, was because its level of interconnectivity with neighbouring states is dismally low. [6] California has an opportunity. It’s climate is ideal for solar generation, so much so that they produce more than they need. They have a few options. They could create new industries that could use that excess power, like water desalination or hydrogen generation plants. They could store the energy using pumped hydro or batteries, so they could use that solar power at night. Both of these options get a lot of attention, and we will explore them in future episodes in this series. However, today, we are going to explore a method that would solve California’s excess power problem at a fraction of the price. A simple but effective method to trade energy with its neighbours. Grid interconnectors. Grid interconnectors are simple enough in principle. They are just large high voltage transmission cables that allow traditionally separate grid markets to trade energy with each other. The Californian government has so far resisted the prospect of joining a wider regional interconnected grid as they would lose governance of their energy market. The new larger regional market would be under the control of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who’s commissioners are appointed by the president. [7] It’s not my place to comment on American politics. However, a number is now appearing on screen which corresponds to a highly detailed unbiased paper in the references list in the description. [6] That paper will shed light on this complicated political and technological issue. Their primary concern is however, that joining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will force them into propping up carbon intensive energy sources like coal from other states. [7] On the contrary, joining a regional market like this would allow California to export all of that excess solar power for a profit, while importing cheap excess wind power from states like Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico. Allowing California to reduce its dependence on natural gas power plants to pick up the slack on darker days and ultimately reduce the cost of electricity and move them closer to their clean energy goals. Unity across borders will be essential to achieving the ambition of clean energy and the European Union is in a strong position to be an example for the world on what this will look like. The continental European electricity grid is already the largest synchronous electricity grid in the world. This is the map of Europe’s current cross border interconnections. [8] Each member state is constantly buying and selling energy to each other to manage their supply and demand. Denmark regularly produces excess wind power and instead of curtailing it, they will sell it to its neighbours like Norway. [9] Who take advantage of the cheap power to fill their pumped hydro reservoirs. They can later release the water and sell the electricity when demand is high. Interconnection like this creates a more diverse source of power. Where different regions can benefit from their advantages in climate and geographic features. Norways, Sweden and other mountainous regions can confidently invest in pumped hydro facilities knowing that they will have a market to buy cheap electricity to fill them and a market to sell it at a higher price. The western regions of Europe can take advantage of strong atlantic winds. Iceland and Italy can increase investment in easily accessible geothermal power, while sunny southern regions can continue building cheap solar farms. You don’t even necessarily need to send power over long distances, which can result in transmission power losses. If Spain is generating an excess of solar power, while Denmark is producing too little wind. France can act as an intermediary. Buying cheap solar power from Spain, and selling some of its own nuclear power to Denmark instead. [10] This requires a common market and a high level of cooperation between members, but if it succeeds it is estimated that a well connected grid will save European customers between 12-40 billion Euro annually by 2030. All the while reducing pollution from fossil fuels. [11] It’s clear that interconnectors can provide grid stability and reduce electricity prices. And so, part of that 1 trillion euro green energy fund will be set towards strengthening the connectivity between member states and creating the European Super Grid. For example, the Celtic Interconnector, which will join Ireland’s grid to the French grid, will receive 530 million euro in investment from the European Union, while the Irish and French grid providers will fund the remaining estimated 470 million euro required to complete the connection. [12] This interconnection will have a capacity of 700 Megawatts and will be capable of powering 450,000 homes. The connection will allow Ireland to continue benefiting from stormy position on the edge of the Atlantic by growing it’s wind portfolio and selling the excess wind energy to the continent, while also benefiting from France’s nuclear and hydroelectric plants during calm days. [13] This is just one of many interconnectors planned, and the European Union has stated a goal of a minimum of 10% interconnection for all member states by the end of 2020. [14] That means they must have interconnections capable of transporting 10% of their total electricity capacity at any time. Countries like Spain have been lagging behind, but are gradually catching up. A new interconnection opened in 2015, tunnelling through the Pyrenees Mountains for 8.7 kilometres. [15] Another subsea connection crossing the Bay of Biscay is expected to become available by 2025. [16] There are many more interconnections under construction and this target level of interconnection will raise to 15% for 2030, and continue raising over time. Eventually this will grow into what is being dubbed the European Supergrid, which could eventually grow to even include solar energy rich North Africa. These developments may seem trivial, but they are a critical first step towards a cleaner future. Europe’s energy market is undergoing a seismic shift. Oil pipelines and coal shipments are being replaced with grid interconnectors and wind turbines. With the ability to export excess renewable energy, countries are incentivized to continue growing their renewable portfolio as they can increase their exports and ultimately improve their economy. Our cities and countries are constantly undergoing change. In our short life times it’s easy to think technologies like fossil fuel power are here to stay, but they just like the water wheel will soon become archaic . We get a great perspective on the ephemeral nature of our technologies and societal norms by learning about the growth of ancient cities. My friend, Dave from the City Beautiful YouTube channel recently released an amazing documentary detailing the rise of a city that spawned an empire. Ancient Rome. This is one of many fantastic Original series on Nebula, the streaming platform created by creators for creators. You can watch it and my new series, the Logistics of D-Day, where I discuss the logistical planning and engineering that made the largest amphibious assault in history possible. The cheapest and best way to gain access to these series is by signing up to CuriosityStream who are now bundling Nebula with ever sign up for just 2.99 a month. For that 2.99 a month you will get access to the thousands of documentaries from some of the world’s best documentary makers and access to Nebula. With Nebula Original series like this, ad free videos, iOs and Android apps, and an algorithm free platform where creat ors are free to create what they want how they want to. Nebula is THE best way to watch your favourite educational YouTubers like City Beautiful, Polyphonic, Medlife Crisis, Thomas Frank and many more. As always, thanks for watching and thank you to all my Patreon supporters. If you would like to see more from me the links to my instagram, twitter, subreddit and discord server are below.