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Analysis: A 'super grid' for Europe

by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Nov 2, 2007
Europe's electricity grids are old and often not capable of providing trans-border, much less trans-continent energy security. Yet one German energy expert has come up with a visionary scenario that would overhaul the grids, increase energy security and at the same time help avoid climate change.

Gregor Czisch's dissertation has rattled the energy world. Its main claim: Given the political will, Europe could within a few years meet 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources, at no cost difference to today's fossil fuel-based system. The scenario includes the construction of a high-voltage direct current European super grid linking all countries in Europe, and the continent externally to Africa and the Middle East.

"We have the technical abilities to build such a super grid within three to five years," Czisch, an energy systems modeling expert at the University of Kassel, told United Press International in a telephone interview. "We just need to commit to this big long-term strategy."

Experts agree Europe's grids are old and desperately need new investment, especially as the European Union plans to significantly increase the share of renewable energy sources. It's likely that the dominant source will be wind energy, resulting in fluctuating energy levels.

Czisch and several others call for a direct current, as opposed to today's alternating current grid. A new high-tech grid would make sure that the fluctuating electricity generation from renewables is smoothly dispersed.

A new network of direct current power lines would be able to transport large volumes of electricity generated in one region to consumers in another, by allowing electricity to quickly flow in either direction. Resource shortages in one area could thus be absorbed by surpluses elsewhere, true to the motto: If wind isn't blowing in the North Sea, it does in the Baltic Sea or in North Africa.

Czisch based his scenario on an intricate calculation based on detailed climate, political, economic, logistic and demographic data from all over the world. It would rely on some 70 percent wind energy, backed up by storage hydropower and biomass. "Some of the best wind capacities lie in deserted areas, such as in Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Sahara," Czisch told UPI. "And then you have the coastal region of Morocco, which has excellent wind capacities."

Photovoltaics don't play a major role in Czisch's scenario because they are simply too expensive and because there are other, better sources available, including solar-thermal energy from southern Spain and the Sahara, for example.

Including the cost for constructing the new power lines, Czisch estimates that under his scheme the electricity consumed in Europe would cost about 4.6 euro cents per kilowatt-hour -- about the same as the European average -- for a super grid that would meet the demands of an area spanning 50 countries and 1.1 billion people.

Other experts are optimistic that the vision can become reality.

"Gregor Czisch is the first man who checked if it is possible to produce 100 percent renewable energy electricity, and this makes it very interesting because he doesn't just look at it from the technical side, but also from the economical side," Peter Bielenberg, a German energy entrepreneur, recently told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Czisch's proposal has sparked the interest of several politicians and large energy utilities, but observers say political interest does not equal political will, especially for such a massive project, which would completely turn our fossil fuel-based system into a renewable one.

And then there is the 27-member European Union, a politically overblown and slow body when it comes to groundbreaking long-term decisions.

Czisch said he has some hopes the United States, a country with huge hydropower potential, wind and solar-thermal power resources, can one day take the lead, because there, the problem of coordinating such a system would be much smaller.

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Shanghai (AFP) Nov 2, 2007
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