Why Do We Need The Supergrid, What Is Its Scope And What Will It Achieve?

Claverton House of Commons Presentation, 19th June 2009

 NoteThe Claverton Energy Groupcomprises about 300 independent energy experts who discuss energy issues. Not all members support the Supergrid concept, however a significant proportion, if not most, do. Dr Czisch presented at a recent Claverton Conference held at the Headquarters of Wessex Water in Bath and it was felt he deserved a wider audience.

Summary– the Supergrid, as defined by Dr Czisch, can reliably delivery 100%  of Europe’s electricity from renewable sources, at around the present price of power and be built  within a matter of decades, this will lead to removing about 45 – 50% of European emissions at an affordable price.

Terminology– the term “Supergird”  or European Supergrid in this context, has the following meaning: It is the concept of building a specific network of new HVDC lines linking zones in Europe, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Scandinavia and Iceland, with the specific purpose of enabling renewable energy to reliably delivered from these areas, and to utilise only existing hydro power as balancing.

For an image see: http://tx1.fcomet.com/~claverto/cms/european-super-grid-2.html

It does not mean “solar power from the Sahara”  (the Desertec concept) although only the HVDC lines themselves could be considered one element.

It does not mean the Airtricity proposal for sub sea cables around Britain.

It does not mean the ad hoc incremental growth of interconnections between grids.

Why Do We Need The Supergrid, What Is Its Scope And What Will It Achieve?
Claverton House of Commons Presentation, 19th June 2009

Note– The Claverton Group comprises about 300 independent energy experts who discuss energy issues. Not all members support the Supergrid concept, however a significant proportion, if not most, do. Dr Czisch presented at a recent Claverton Conference held at the Headquarters of Wessex Water in Bath and it was felt he deserved a wider audience.

Summary– the Supergrid, as defined by Dr Czisch, can reliably deliver 100% renewable electricity, at around the present price of power, within a matter of decades.
Background and context
– We need to enact carbon reduction plans now – the vast majority of climate scientists accept that global warming is a dangerous reality due essentially to gases from fossil fuels.
– Worldwide, about 50% of atmospheric carbon comes from electricity production.
– Therefore we need alternatives to fossil fuels and the attendant insecurities – UK production of these fuels continues to decrease and will approach insignificant levels soon. Coal production peaked in the UK in 1914
– We need to guard against rising future fuel prices as cheap fossil fuels are used up.
– Wind is the most widely available UK renewable resource and with adequate interconnection we can sell our surplus and balance our supply within a large pan-Continental system, rather than continuing to pay for fuel imports.
– Roughly speaking an area of wind turbines, off shore, in total only about 70 miles by 70 miles would generate all UK power at no great difference in cost than the proposed costs for nuclear energy.
– This would require about 28,000 turbines, a small figure compared say to the 250,000 aircraft produced, and then destroyed in Europe during WW2.


Let us be clear, the Czisch supergrid is NOT an incremental extension to existing grid interconnections (which is happening all the time), but a step change in transmission specifically to allow access to production from widely separated sources. This means that within a few decades, less with clear leadership, we could have access to affordable renewable electricity cutting carbon emissions by around 50%.

Proven Technology

All the elements of the proposed Supergrid – the high voltage lines, the converter stations, the submarine cables – is proven technology with known costs and performances.

Czisch’s work

Dr Czisch has carried out an enormous computer optimisation (a kind of special mathematical technique) for a number of scenarios, each taking up to two weeks to run. Thus he has found the cheapest renewable plant mix and where to put them.
Dr Czisch has shown that an international grid linking Norway, Iceland, UK, Europe’s existing hydro, and the adjacent States of Kazakhstan, North Africa etc with wind turbines judiciously located could provide 100% renewable power at around the present price of power. The costs of such electricity fed into the AC grid of the consuming country would be about 4.65 €ct/kWh and this even if only technology were used which is available in the market now and current hardware prices are used without any assumed price reductions due to techno/economic learning.
These costs are less than the lowest current prices at the electricity exchanges.
We believe the scheme following from Czisch’s research is technically, financially and politically do-able. Many of us think that the future geo-political and climate cost-risks of any alternatives are greater than with Dr Czisch’s proposal.

Paybacks and funding

The absolute cost is of itself not important to focus on, what counts is Czisch has shown us that we can have a power cost from renewables comparable to today’s power costs. This means we are effectively swapping the huge stream of future imported fossil fuel costs, for the capital costs of the equipment.
The UK’s electricity fuel costs will be about £125 Billion over 20 yrs at today’s prices, this could conceivably double.
There have been some lurid estimates of capital costs in some recent articles, but taken out of context they can look frightening, but what these stories never state is the total cost of fuel imports for 25 years, and these dwarf the capital costs of the Czisch grid. This is obvious from the fact that the cost of power, factoring in capital and maintenance costs is close or less than today’s prices.

History of European Grids

In 1927, Lord Weir reported to the government that we needed to build the UK national grid, which was then built in its first form in a matter of less than 10 years. All other European countries reached the same conclusion at roughly the same time and constructed their national grids.
Thus the European Supergrid could be constructed in similar timescales if all of Europe again acted in concert.

Construction rates and precedents

We propose that with sufficient factories, the components of the Supergrid can be manufactured in less than a decade. It takes typically 2 years for a large factory to be built which is the first thing to be done if more capacity were needed.
– A tank factory could be set up in 6 months in USA in 1943.
Also, transmission routes can be built within a short time if the right political framework is available. The technology most appropriate is HVDC. Senior German Utility Officials have stated they can build their sections in two years.
– A German consortium have recently announced they can build their £400 billion solar plant and connections in 10 years.
Europe is an underdeveloped Continent in terms of the use of HVDC, but significant systems have already been built. The Norway to central Germany link was built in the 1970’s, a 2GW link from UK to France was built in the 1990s, and another 1GW is currently being built, the Norway to Netherlands 1 GW link was set up last year. We see very significant lines with rated capacities up to 6.5GW with length of more than 2000 km under construction in China. the Inga Shaba link, 560 MW, 1700 km was built through a war zone in the 1980s. There are also dozens of other projects around the world.
As noted, our industrial world was capable of massive constructions during World War 2, following the 1930s depression, and can handle emergency priorities – 250,000 aeroplanes, 250,000 tanks and 250,000 heavy guns – all assets which were built and liquidated and had no economic output.
The scale of construction of the Supergrid is slight by comparison to WW2, and will put to good use remaining fossil fuels even as those fuels increase in cost, and will leave a legacy of productive infrastructure.

Will the market deliver unaided?

It is very important to understand that the present market arrangements will merely deliver incremental changes and not lead to the step changes required for the Supergrid without government providing leadership and modifying the existing market structures, (which are of course arbitrary).

Geo-political risk and blackmail?

It has been suggested that importing all our power from Africa will leave us open to power blackmail.
Firstly the above scenario is not being suggested.
We suggest that one set of geo-political risks need be compared with others.
We suggest that existing fossil power stations will be retained, with large fuel storage (it is easy to store months of coal) to avoid possible effects of short-term disagreements or conflicts. The costs of retaining a power station ready to be started up is insignificant compared to the cost of its fuel when operating which is about 90% of the cost of generation. Already in Europe power stations are maintained all year just to deal with the annual peak during winter cold snaps.
We suggest that a sufficient revenue stream going to energy producing countries will encourage economic and political stability within a wider region
We suggest that present inter-dependent relationships concerning fossil fuel supplies offer a model of both the difficulty and success of such international trade, but the long term security afforded by renewable supplies trumps the potential insecurities.
The wires from these assets, like a gas pipeline, of course only go to one market and tie together the interests of both producer and consumer.

Effects of doing nothing

We suggest the needs of adjacent regions, especially in the face of climate change, will increasingly introduce very large insecurity that can only be countered by underpinning these populations with a renewable energy based security. Pressures on Europe will not go away.
Extending the Supergrid and associated turbines to these countries, offers them employment, income, self respect and reasons to live and build their lives there.

Steps to be taken
We suggest that we need a process of pan-European planning and negotiation to be undertaken to allow the construction of the project to begin at the earliest possible opportunity.

Presentation of Gregor Czisch
The physicist and electrical engineer Dr Czisch has studied the possibilities of a totally renewable electricity supply for 12 years. In order to give us the background to discuss all the topics I sketched I now would like to invite you to listen to Gregor Czisch’s presentation.

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