This month the G8 Summit agreed the first steps towards a
significant global strategy on climate change by agreeing that global warming
temperatures should not exceed 2C of 1900 levels and that member nations will
work towards an 80% reduction of green house gas emissions by 2050. The USA has
taken a major step-change in its attitude towards the climate and President
Obama who chaired the discussion stressed that the issue of climate change could
no longer be ignored and that we should look towards December and Copenhagen.
This is positive news for the environment and energy
industry. It shows a real commitment at last, by the world’s most powerful
nations to act to arrest global warming and this commitment can only add to the
industry’s growth. But how are we going to supply the world with renewable
When Dr. Czisch first published his ideas outlining a
European “Supergrid” a few years ago, in which he explored a concept to supply
the continent’s electricity demands by using only the renewable energy
technologies that are now available, the world didn’t take much notice. However
now, European policy-makers, as well as the global business community, are
gradually taking note of the significance of his ideas.
Mark Vidler, Energy Group Manager at Allen & York
Environmental Recruitment took the opportunity to speak to Dr Czisch on a recent
visit to the UK:
Mark Vidler –
What is the Supergrid and why is it important to us?
Gregor Czisch – We are faced with the
fact that Renewables are not steadily producing; there are fluctuations
depending on where you are in the world, what the climate is, whether it is
summer or winter for example. In the longer term we need steady, smooth
production of energy which can be employed to cover the demand at any time. In
order to achieve this to best effect it is important to expand the range of
energy sources, to have a strong mix of climate zones and to expand the km2 of
land for wind and solar energy. In summary the creation of a Supergrid, a place
where ‘the world’ could feed its renewable energy into, would solve the problems
of source intermittency and smooth out the production to a consistently high
MV – Who will
be the main beneficiaries?
The main beneficiary is the climate, because the Electricity
sector is currently emitting about 50% of the world’s carbon emissions from
fossil fuels. The Supergrid – preferably a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC)
Transmission System – will only be fed by renewable energy sources and would
therefore ‘clean’ the environment significantly.
Consumers would also benefit, firstly because it would be
cheaper and because they are getting fully renewable electricity.
Lastly the economies of some countries would benefit. If we
think about establishing wind and solar farms in Africa for example, then there
could be investment made in these countries and so they could profit from an
extra growth in their economy and significantly reduce their unemployment by
exporting parts of their energy to European countries.
International corporate business would also benefit as they
have the potential to invest in global energy production and fight climate
change which could ultimately be very costly for them.
MV – What in
your view is preventing this from happening?
GC – There are many players, firstly
the decision makers – The first applications for the concept of the renewable
Supergrid – as it resulted as being the best solution from my research – were
made in late 2001 and it has been very difficult get the facts in front of the
politicians to create awareness and crucially to give them the correct
information on the huge potential of this shared international and
The utility companies, who have their own grids and own
production, often resist strong links to other countries and competitors.
Consequently they will not lead on this at least not as a fast approach, however
I believe that if the politicians lead the corporate organisations would have to
follow and ultimately might also benefit.
Ideologists and de-centralists are also looking at this from
a ‘small is beautiful’ perspective and nothing else. They fight the large scale
renewables, which are sometimes far away from the consumer, believing the home
grown production is better.
MV – How
financially viable is this?
There is a simple answer. If the international system is properly designed the costs
of renewable electricity are not higher than the today’s costs of electricity.
Therefore it basically is absolutely viable.
A key to this is provision of capital outlay provided by
financial backers such as governments and corporate business. An internationally
agreed feed-in tariff (e.g. the amount of money a renewable energy producer is
paid for the energy they supply to the grid) that guarantees that the costs of production and
transmission are covered would be extremely helpful to attract investment. If
you have good tools for investment based on loans renewable electricity will be
cheaper than supply from oil, gas and coal with their fluctuating prices.
MV – Do we
have the right skills?
All the necessary technology is there, some parts have to be
adapted to the highest HVDC voltage available today e.g. the circuit breaker
necessary for a meshed HVDC system. Another engineering project will be
developing the cables for this voltage to connect under the sea between
countries. However, no crucial part of the technology is missing and there is no
question that we have the right skills for the job.
Really it is all about co-operation between energy supplies and
political backing groups and countries. Increasing awareness and knowledge are
crucial and I am confident we are moving in the right direction. If I could make
one change now it would be the introduction of an international feed-in tariff,
which I believe would make a huge difference.