There were a number of news stories in 2009 about different projects being considered in Europe to build a continent-wide grid capable of delivering renewable energy from a multitude of sources to any destination on the continent. The first renewable energy supergrid story of 2010 came out earlier this week and it demonstrates how far Europe has come in their serious quest to get off fossil fuels.
There is also interest in coordinating with North African countries to join the grid in order to stabilize the base load. Wind and tidal power plants could be build across northern Europe. Massive solar farms could be built across northern Africa. African countries could get desalination plants built, powered by the renewable energy supergrid, and Europe could get the energy they need 24/7 regardless of weather at a specific location.
Nine countries (Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and the UK) plan to formally draw up plans to link up their respective clean energy projects. The cool techie part: thousands of miles of undersea cables will be laid on the seabed. Construction could start by the end of the year. There is also a strong aspect of energy storage involved: Norway’s hydroelectric power stations, which could act as a 30GW battery!!
In contrast to the U.S.’s desire to drill off-shore, Europe is taking a more pragmatic approach: 100GW of offshore wind projects are in the works. They would supply 10% of the EU’s energy demand, which isn’t a trivial amount.
Estimates of cost come in around €20bn-€30bn. That sum shouldn’t be taken lightly, but as I’ve argued before, the costs of inaction greatly outweigh the costs of action in the climate change realm.
The development of the North Sea supergrid would be the first step toward implementing a European-wide grid, and eventually a European-African grid. The Europeans aren’t looking at their 2020 GHG pollution reduction pledges as the final goal. They’re looking at what it’s going to take to get from 2020 to 2050. At this point, I don’t think enough Americans are serious enough about a potential 2020 goal, let alone anything beyond it.
There is now enough footwork done to establish as fact the availability and potential of renewable energy in America. There is more than enough of any single kind of renewable energy. When all the sources are combined, the potential is incredible – and that includes a continuation of increasing energy usage with time. Solar and geothermal are dominant energy sources west of the Rocky Mountains. Wind is dominant across the Midwest and Northeast. What we need, as Europe has realized, is a grid that connects all the separate projects together to provide homes and businesses with renewable energy 24/7, regardless of demand or weather. It’s an achievable goal – we just have to decide to get aggressive and make it happen.