We all should share energy through a worldwide grid

We all should share energy through a worldwide grid – The importance of geography and grid connections became painfully clear in China in recent years. Too many coal and wind power stations have been built in China’s northern provinces without the grid capacity to connect them to the high-consumption provinces in the east.151 A five-year spending program of $350 billion, 2016–2020, aims to resolve this by building another 20 high-voltage direct currents (HVDC) lines from north to south and east of over 800 kilometers each.

We all should share energy through a worldwide grid

A recent key breakthrough to transport electricity flexibly is opening up many new possibilities for massive continental-scale ‘super grids.’ These can bring benefits of the seasonal complementary nature of wind and sun. It has been established that—at least in Europe—there are a lot of cloudy, windy days in winter and clear, still days in summer due to which the seasonal storage issue would largely disappear by combining wind and solar power (figures 1a & 1b).

We all should share energy through a worldwide grid
Figure 1.

Interconnection over large geographic distances can also connect different wind regions to each other, for example, the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Mediterranean Sea countries. The rationale is that connecting them would smooth out a lot of the day-to-day fluctuation between these countries. However, it is not an end-all solution, as can be seen in figure 1c, wherein a theoretical example 240 GW of wind and 90 GW of solar capacity for the year 2014 are pooled across seven EU-28 countries.153 The key challenge of super grids lies in the enormous amount of planning they require, especially when they go through built-up environments. In Europe for this reason HVDC cables have been built only in offshore areas. Germany is making its first steps towards a large onshore HVDC grid. Three high-voltage direct-current lines will be built in the next five years, connecting offshore and onshore wind farms in the north to large electricity users in the German south. 

China is building its own super grid. The country already has 20 such cables at 500–800 kV; the longest is 2,210 km long. It has also signed an agreement with the Russian, Japanese, and South Korean national grid companies to explore building a pan-Asian super grid. And Chinese ambitions don’t stop there. Zhenya Liu, the chairman of China’s State Grid Corporation (SGCC), dreams of building a global-scale grid system by the year 2050 called the Energy Internet to which all continents are connected.155 He launched the first Global Energy Interconnection conference in March 2016 where hundreds of international companies and institutes were brought together to talk about the global super grid. Technically speaking, creating such massive power corridors is a massive challenge, let alone economically. Yet it would allow the connection of solar power from longitudinally very distant places, so that locations where it is night become connected to places where it is the day, and vice versa. 

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