A pan-European electricity grid

2010-12-06

in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, Science, The environment

Last month, The Economist made a convincing case that a pan-European electricity grid could help Europe move to a future more compatible with a stable climate:

This offshore grid is the germ of a big dream: a Europe-wide system of electricity highways. If it makes sense in the North Sea, it makes even more for wind and solar power from Spain and, one day, solar energy from the Sahara desert. And as well as Norwegian reservoirs, why not store power in existing Alpine valleys? This would reduce the need for more power stations to balance the spikes and troughs of renewables. Moreover if producers could trade energy over the grid in a single market, the benefits could be bigger still. European officials reckon energy savings of some 20-25% would be possible.

Such ideas have nostalgic appeal because the European Union was born from a move to pool energy sources in 1951 in the European Coal and Steel Community. These days the EU can be the community of wind and sun, not to mention gas and nuclear power. The trouble is that such dreams are not cheap. The European Commission this week said that €1 trillion ($1.4 trillion) of investment would be needed in the next decade. Most should come from the industry, but a chunk must also come from already tight public budgets.

They are wrong, however, to claim that rising natural gas consumption is not a major problem. Burning gas may be a better way to get a kilowatt-hour of electricity than burning coal, but both are unacceptable in a world where carbon dioxide concentrations are already dangerously high.

Europe’s improved grid should be connecting energy demand centres to diverse and disparate sources of renewable wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal energy – not perpetuating dependence on fossil fuels.

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