Study suggests safer energy supplies via SuperSmart Grid
A new study suggests that Europe could achieve safer supply of energy and climate change mitigation through renewable energy. The study also outlines how a 'SuperSmart Grid' could support long-distance transmission and decentralised energy production. Ultimately, such a grid could enable a complete renewable energy system by 2050. The study is part of CIRCE, a project funded under the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), with EUR 10 million. Scheduled to end in 2011, CIRCE is targeting the development of an assessment of the climate change impacts in the Mediterranean area.
One of the challenges of renewable energy is that the supply is intermittent, which could be problematic for the grid system. Also, the existing grid system in Europe must be revamped because it cannot meet the rising energy demands.
The researchers working under CIRCE propose that an extensive grid be developed so that electricity generated with renewable sources could be transmitted over long distances. This would be the 'Super Grid', they said. Also, decentralising renewable electricity production from distributed and small installations would be a viable option in order to overcome the problems that currently exist. This would be a 'Smart Grid'.
Therefore, by consolidating these two options, a SuperSmart Grid (SSG) would be created. The SSG would have the capacity to transmit electricity over a wide area and link together smaller, distributed-generation installations. According to the CIRCE partners, an efficient SSG would also be able to offset any fluctuations over a wide area.
In order for Europe to meet its target for slashing greenhouse gas emissions by between 60% to 80% (against pre-industrial levels by 2050), a 100% renewable electricity system is needed, the researchers said. They noted it should comply with the policy restricting the global average temperature increase to less than 2° C.
Renewable energy imported from outside the EU could contribute to securing Europe's target that 20% of all energy comes from renewable sources within the next 12 years. With this in mind, installations like solar thermal power stations in the North African deserts could supply renewable energy to Europe. The experts say the conditions in such areas are more cost efficient for producing solar power.
The researchers also noted how high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) technologies permit power to be transmitted over long distances with minimal losses, while alternating current (AC) lines need increased insulation and are riskier to handle.
The integration of the power market in Europe would make the system more reliable and consumers would be able to purchase cheaper electricity. According to the researchers, renewable electricity imported from North Africa could give energy security a boost because the overall energy imports would be more diverse. They added that power trade on the global market guarantees a steadier supply of imported energy.
Other advantages for the SSG are the large economies of scale and low operating costs it would secure. However, initial investments for renewable energy installations would be high. For instance, thermal solar power stations in North Africa would cost three times as much as traditional fossil fuel plants in Europe, the researchers said.
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