Is 100% Renewable Possible By 2050? – Interconnectors

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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

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

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
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