How to assess the unknown
26th September 2013
The Creation of a Clean Energy Hub
26th September 2013

Developing the super-grid

Die Zukunft der Offshore-Windenergie hat begonnen / The future of offshore wind energy has begun Friends of the Supergrid CEO Ana Aguado Cornago explained how political will is needed to make the most of Europe’s renewable resources, when speaking at the Energy Ireland conference. The technology is quickly taking shape.

Based in Brussels, Friends of the Supergrid (FOSG) was set up in 2010 and represents supply chain companies whose expertise is necessary to build the super-grid e.g. transmission system operators, technology, cabling and shipping companies.

Their common challenge is to prove that building the super-grid in Europe is possible. The network was formed by Eddie O’Connor, CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power, who has been working on the super-grid concept for more than 10 years.

In 2008, the European Council had agreed to decarbonise the energy sector by almost 100 per cent (and also de-carbonise the economy as much as possible) by 2050.

“For that, we need to change the energy systems we have in Europe today and the only energy sources Europe has [to deliver this policy] are renewable energies,” she explained. This shift will also help to achieve the single European electricity market.

“We haven’t got it yet but the first Directive was 18 years ago,” she said of the market. “One of the reasons, of course, is that we don’t have enough grids.” All the relevant technology is European and this, in turn, promises to generate employment and export opportunities.

The super-grid is defined as a pan-European network and it would not be limited to EU member states. It would also take in Norway, Belarus and the Ukraine with extensions into North Africa and the Middle East to transmit solar energy from that region. The super-grid would facilitate the integration of large-scale renewable energy and the balancing and transportation of electricity.

“It has to be planned at European level and not member state-by-member state as has been the case until now,” Cornago stated. A new Regulation on trans-European networks entered into force on 15 May and allows for:

• 12 strategic trans-European corridors and areas;

• a maximum permitting process of 3½ years;

• harmonised cost-benefit analysis;

• the co-ordination of the cross-border investments approval process; and

• projects to be implemented for reasons of “imperative overriding public interest”.

Ana Aguado The Regulation also contains conditions to identify projects of EU interest which will include super-grid projects. Within member states, the planning processes for some projects had lasted up to 30 years. The cost-benefit analysis work would be developed by the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) as major projects bring a benefit or a cost for neighbouring member states.

“Despite this being a very important step, in our view it is still not enough,” she continued, adding that FOSG’s objective was “a pan-European network in which you have to optimise generation at European level.”

As of June, all projects presented under the Regulation involved only two member states rather than the multi-national ambitions needed to realise the objective.

ENTSO-E predicts that a massive grid expansion (45,300km of new lines) will be needed if Europe’s 2020 renewable target is to be met. Another 21,900km is needed to ensure continued security of supply and 18,200km for internal market integration.

Implementation

Phase 0 of the super-grid would start in the North Sea and English Channel and connect its offshore windfarms to each other and also onshore stations in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. This would be accompanied by the East-West Interconnector between Ireland and Wales. The timescale for this phase is 2015-2020.

A European Commission-funded study for the North Sea estimated that hub connections would save €14 billion and additional meshed connections costs of €5-8 billion could bring benefit of €16-21 billion. Phase 1 would involve more links between offshore sites and interconnections between the Britain, Ireland and France.

“In order to do that, you need a very strong political will,” Cornago added. “There is no single market of electricity in Europe – that’s a fact – but especially for renewable energies, there is even less because you can’t trade with renewable energies. Every country has its own mechanism.”

A genuine European energy policy would optimise generation at European level and take a top-down approach to network planning: “Of course, you will have to attract investors which means the rate of return and the way to finance those investments has to be modified.”

The CIGRE and CENELEC working groups are looking at technological standardisation. ENTSO-E has started to work from the HVDC grid code and is leading a new study for the Commission, entitled E-Highway 2050.

In Germany’s grid master plan 2012, VSC-HVDC is chosen for overhead line corridors from north to south. The first report of the North Sea Offshore Grid Initiative (NSCOGI), published in 2012, agrees that connecting the offshore resources in the area makes sense.

Cornago also noted early signs of progress in the North Sea. Belgium and Germany both have plans to build hubs of seven wind parks which can then be connected to the shore in neighbouring countries.

Technological progress

“As far as technology is concerned, there shouldn’t be any problem,” Cornago stated. Friends of the Supergrid published its second report on technological evolution in March 2013. Recent developments have included the announcement of the HVDC breaker by Alstom and ABB and capacity increase in cable factories, ships, production and engineering facilities.

The super-node concept uses AC to collect the energy from offshore wind sites and DC to transmit this energy to distant load centres. Power is then converted back to AC for connection to existing transmission systems. The many super-nodes connected in a DC super-grid would allow multi-directional power flows depending on supply and demand.

Each year, FOSG technology members spend around 4 per cent of their turnover on R&D (largely on transmission). Several manufacturers have reported successful HVDC breaker test results.

The Siemens full bridge converter has an inherent DC turn-off capability and independent DC voltage control for load flow control in extended DC grids, DC fault current control and an unlimited number of fast and smooth DC voltage recoveries after faults.