European Super Grid – "Wrong to suggest this would make Europe more vulnerable than importing Russian Gas and Middle East fossil fuels" – ?

Example of potential HVDC grid for europe, with 42% net import from regions surrounding Europe.
Example of potential HVDC grid for europe, with 42% net import from regions surrounding Europe.
Map of existing
Map of European HVDC - Red - Built, Green - Building, Blue being built. Source:Wikipedia
The above slide from Czisch (“An affordable renewable power system for Europe”) shows that Europe is unlikely to be vulnerable to sudden disconnection / sabotage of say a single or several, North African regions since there is considerable redundancy in connection and diversity of supply areas, and European grids of necessity already have existing sophisticated systems for coping with the sudden loss of a large amount of generation.  Under Czisch’s cheapest scenario, only 42% overall is imported from outside Europe and this is shared amongst 10 such contributing generating regions including Ukraine, Kazakhstan etc. Each link is duplicated and if one half is lost, the other can carry the load temporarily. There is also a ring main system so power can still flow around the periphery even if a major link is cut. The Supergrid could be built without assuming net imports – this merely makes the power somewhat more expensive.
Arguably a string of pylons through an unpopulated desert area is very easy to protect militarily – cameras, satellites, tv cameras, no on else supposed to be around, helicopters etc.  It would be much easier to attack these installations in Europe itself where the attacker can melt into the background. No grid is 100% reliable – UK lost power in 2008 due to the sudden failure of Sizewell B nuclear power station,  the largest source of unreliability on the UK National Grid. 
Existing European fossil stations would be retained (plus nine months coal  and 2 weeks gas stocks – as now)  and kept warm as appropriate (numbers and loadings determined on a risk probability basis as now) and can be  started in  hours. Various automatic load shedding systems (2 GW in UK existing) and fast start generation (5 GW of diesels in France, 500 MW in UK , – existing ) Realtek1, Realteck2, ) French EJP tariff, can also be extended and deployed to make the risk of loss of supply no worse than it is now. These automatic load shedding and fast start power generation systems, plus hydro storage, can cover for the few hours taken whilst fossil plant is ramped up, making us immune to threats of sabotage and / or sudden disconnection, thereby removing any incentive for any perpetrators.
It is highly likely there will be an increase in electric powered vehicles and these can be used to store energy, back feed, or defer charging to support reliability.
Once built, the power output from external European generation can only be sent to its intended destination – unlike say oil and gas which can be switched elsewhere very quickly. For years Europe has imported crucial amounts of fuel from countries ill disposed to us such  Iran / Iraq with no problem. 
We also need to consider the humanitarian and moral issues involved. For years, Europe has plundered and impoverished Africa – the reason the Somali pirates changed from being peaceful fisherman to pirates, was because their fish stocks were destroyed by European and others over fishing their seas. (Europe has bought up the rights to many African country’s fish, meaning it is illegal  for the locals to fish, but have to watch the European trawlers stealing their fish, and then buy it back in tins from the local shops, assuming they have any money – little wonder they hop in their boats and hold up passing shipping – this is never of course mentioned in our hopeless newspapers).
We have seen the results of this systematic impoverishment coupled with population growth with the recent escape of 2000 North African boat people from detention on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
What would make sense would be for us to invest in these countries so that they had their  own indigenous source of power (in Czisch’s plan, the locals are all supplied and it is the residue which is exported to Europe), income and work, and Europe  would pay them to send the power to us.  This would start to give them a reason to live in and be proud of their own countries, and the ability to develop agriculture, (sea water green house)/ (desert rose scheme) rather than risking death trying to get to Europe.
The assertion that such a system of imported energy such as Czisch’s plan is likely to be  any less reliable than the present system of importing all our fuel from politically unstable areas, with dwindling resources is quite wrong. It will be much less vulnerable than say the Russian gas imports, since there is no alternative to Russian gas in our gas fired power stations.
The UTCE (Union of Transmission Companies in Europe) states it takes 7 – 10 years to build a typical line, so Europe should be getting together now and planning these to make space on the grid for both indigenous European resources (Czisch assumes 58% indigenous, but this could quite easily be 100%) and those which can be imported.  Wind farms by comparison take only typically 3 years to build.  Renewable development in UK is already stymied because we have failed to build grid connections ahead of demand.
Even the hopeless IEA (The International Energy Agency – the so called Rich Nations Energy Watchdog  (aka The Dog That Didn’t Bark) recognises the role that interconnection can play in accommodating renewables.
See also Czisch’ recent comment on security and imports.
Map of existing
HVDC lines - built - red, green - under construction, blue - planned. Courtesy Wikipedia

6 comments on “European Super Grid – "Wrong to suggest this would make Europe more vulnerable than importing Russian Gas and Middle East fossil fuels" – ?

  1. ________________________________________
    From: Graeme Bathurst [mailto:graeme.bathurst
    Sent: 29 January 2009 15:33
    To: Energy – Environment – Transport Forums
    Subject: Re: Energy Research Forum


    Interesting question on Canada, certainly there has been a feasibility study on multi-terminal HVDC linking eastern Russia with Europe – early 90s and EU funded I believe. Europe to Canada via Iceland and Greenland is a long way subsea. I’ll need to get back to you on that.

    UK to Iceland is considered feasible and I will get back to you with a rough cost estimate.

    I missed the article in the times but what was the reasoning of why UK owing Iceland a favour?


    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device
    From: Energy – Environment – Transport Forums
    Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2009 02:25:11 -0600 (CST)
    To: <graeme.bathurst
    Subject: Energy Research Forum
    Energy Research Forum

    Posted: 28 Jan 2009 05:58 PM CST
    A couple of questions

    Iceland is the size of Portugal, with the population of Edinburgh. A very conservative estimate puts their renewable resource at 40TWh/yr.

    As noted recently in the Times, the UK owes them a favour; how much would a supergrid link cost between UK and Iceland?

    Thinking a little further ahead, would it be feasible to exploit time zone differences by building an HVDC link(s) across the GIUK gap from Canada?

    Regards, George Walis

  2. Hi Nigel,

    By the way I was never advocating swapping the HVDC import for weapons – I was trying to answer a hypothetical situation advanced by some people, that bad people would take it over the wind and hvdc assetts and then threaten us – the point is that bad people already have taken over our energy supplies. Russia is now a gangster state according to yesterday’s Guardian, (murder of Litvinov and 7 journalists in Russia), and you can pretty much say the same about most other countries who supply us with a lot of energy – but they have to continue to flog us the stuff since they need the cash – pointing this out doesn’t mean I support or condone it.


  3. Dear Dave (+Gregor), it’s a bit naive to claim that : ‘European grids of necessity already have existing sophisticated systems for coping with the sudden loss of a “large” amount of generation’, when the capacity of current HVDC Interconnectors is around 2 GW (e.g. UK-France), vs. the Czisch plan requires links of up to 42 GW (e.g .Spain-France) as we heard at the recent UKERC/Claverton seminar. I very much doubt that it is technically possible to cope with the sudden loss of anything like 42 GW, which would lead to massive pan-EU ‘domino-effect’ blackouts. At present the equivalent capacity is spread among a large number of infdividual conventional stations located safely within EU borders.
    As for security vs. terrorism, while I agree that it is not impossible for a terrorist group to theoretically strike at generating resources within the EU, I find your (comparative) comments re. provision of security in North Africa thoroughly naive. Several of these countries are not merely subject to, but are/have been recently HAVENS OF, anti-Western terrorism, and their internal security situations are currently quite fragile. Western (EU) military security intervention to improve the situation ‘would not be welcomed’ and could lead to further political destabilisation, degenerating into Iraq-style scenarios. Have you not seen the famous film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’? That single-line Hedjaz railway he attacked so successfully in 1917 is the direct analogue of a single-corridoor HVDC line. Even without actual terrorism, I fear the formation of ‘SOLAR/WIND-PEC’ (cf. OPEC, among countries ‘of similar ethnic extraction’) and a re-run of 1973. So the security issue is far from ‘trivial’ (which is not the same as saying it’s insoluble).
    Also, on a technical point, the existence of multiple HVDC pathways ‘per se’ provides no security unless they have massive redundant SPARE capacity for that purpose, which I guess Gregor did not include in his cost calculations.
    Regards, Chris Hodrien
    Principal Technical Consultant
    Expansion Energy Ltd

  4. @Chris Hodrien
    Hi Chris. Your comment, left one year ago on this is telling.
    Now (May 2011) we have Egypt a fledgling democracy, a War in Libya and a bomb in Maraketch.
    My position is that “joining up” national electricity grids across international borders will tend to permit greater penetration of renewable energy mix (e.g. Wind in North Sea, pumped storage in Norway) and I have seen some math modelling being used. However it is not clear if net cost reduction, lowest cost of ownership, cost to consumer or some other “sought metric” has really been identified in these models.
    Regarding the question of stabilizing geo-politics and risk of interrupted energy supply, I take the view that “benefits” outweigh “risks” and I sense you take the opposite view. Any suggestions how we might better articulate a “risk model” with which to test scenarios?

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