A high voltage electricity grid connecting countries from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay could provide almost a third of Europe's power by 2030, according to the company behind the idea. The system would improve energy security, cut emissions, and even reduce the price of power at times of peak demand.
The supergrid is the brainchild of Irish wind generator Airtricity – recently acquired by Scottish and Southern Energy for €1.1 billion - and would connect countries as far apart as Norway and Spain to each other's offshore wind farms. When the wind blows in one country but not in others, power would be directed through the high voltage direct current (HVDC) network to wherever it is needed most.
According to Mark Ennis, Airtricity's Executive Director for Strategy and Public Policy, the system will solve the Achilles heel of wind generation. In an interview with lastoilshock.comand Global Public Media, Ennis said "By having a very large grid over several thousand kilometers you take the variability out, you almost come out with base load energy"
Speaking on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi last week, Ennis went on to say that the HVDC technology is proven, that existing financial incentives are already sufficient to make the idea viable, and that a regulatory agreement between countries is close: "I think we are nearly there". If work starts soon, Ennis claimed, the supergrid could supply 30% of Europe's power by 2030.
The initial investment would be huge, but would be spread between grid operators, such as the National Grid in Britain, and Eon Netzt in Germany, and wind farm operators. However, by directing electricity to where demand – and prices – are highest, according to Ennis the system should reduce peak demand for fossil fuels and therefore bring costs down.
David Strahan is an award-winning investigative journalist and documentary film-maker who, since the early 1990s, has reported and produced extensively for the BBC's Money Programme and Horizon strands. Strahan is the author of The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man and is a trustee of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre.