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European Supergrids—Key Questions Answered

  • September 2013
  • -
  • Frost & Sullivan
  • -
  • 47 pages


Table of Contents

Increasing power generation from renewable energy has led to excess energy-sharing among European states. Implementation of supergrids within select European countries would enhance effective power transmission and distribution. This market insight addresses the importance of supergrids and their necessity in Europe. Topics covered include the benefits of supergrids, the challenges supergrids face (particularly for their development in Europe), the technical issues surrounding supergrids, and the regional developments of supergrids in Europe. The base year is 2012.

Key Findings—Evolution of Supergrids in Europe

• Installing supergrids is a crucial step towards making widespread use of clean energy supplies because they will enable the decarbonisation of the power sector and the European economy by 2050. The first phase of supergrids to be built by 2020 are envisaged as essential components for achieving 2030 renewable targets.
• Developments in this sector have been slow because of various political, financial, and technical risks. Government funding has also been a challenge due to the European economic crisis.
• Industry participants believe that challenges, such as the need for coordinated and anticipatory investments in shared assets, can be overcome through strong political leadership. However, industry development has not adequately gained political support, and companies have not been willing to undertake supergrid projects without government guidance because of the risks involved and the high costs of setting up interconnections.
• In addition, the complex problem of cost sharing among states must be addressed through open political debate so that the public can be confident in government plans for shaping the grid.
• The advantages of interconnectors are that they can be a cost-effective method for backing up wind power and overcoming the greater capital costs of building power stations.
• Standardisation and interoperability are crucial for the efficient and timely realisation of a supergrid in Europe. Despite various challenges and setbacks, supergrids are considered to be smart investments, especially when offshore resources are to be efficiently harnessed.
• Despite formal unification, the European electricity market is actually fragmented and contains a large number of national power markets operating at different states of interconnectedness with neighbouring countries.
• The Nordic market has been successfully unified as result of strong interconnections, and there is a tradition of trust between the Nordic states. However, trade between other EU countries is expected to increase.
• Currently, due to market fragmentation and weak interconnections, electricity markets and policies in favour of supergrids are still national, rather than European, affairs.
• Moreover, the lack of necessary infrastructure has meant that the benefits Europe could reap from a single electricity market have not been completely gained.
• One challenge to supergrids is consumer opposition to building high-voltage networks for trade or removal of grid congestion.
• Wholesale legal and regulatory changes are required to open up the electricity markets so that generating companies receiving subsidies for feeding renewable energy into their country’s grid also receive subsidies if they supply power elsewhere.
• Much of the groundwork for addressing various challenges can be addressed, and various supergrid projects have been planned as more renewables have been added to the networks. Although European-wide supergrids have yet to be realised and their development will be slow, regional supergrid systems seem to be an emerging trend.

What is a Supergrid?

• Supergrids transport large energy loads across regions or long distances.
• A large interconnected system of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology facilitates the transport of energy among countries or areas with large supply and demand needs.
• Alternating current (AC) has large transmission losses and is, therefore, not suited for transport across long distances.
• Supernodes are key nodes in a supergrid where abundantly available renewable power is transmitted. Supernodes are used to collect, integrate, and route renewable energy.
• Each supernode consists of X to X AC-to-DC converter stations. These supernodes convert AC power to HVDC, resulting in minimal losses over long distances.
• Supernodes will then route the power to destination grids to be reconverted back into AC for distribution to consumers through an AC grid.
• A supernode primarily serves as an energy trading vehicle that interconnects various national grids for multilateral energy trade. One such supernode links multiple offshore wind farms in British and German waters with a back-up connection from Norway.

Supergrid Development Pathway

• Future renewable energy plants replacing older coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants.
• Connections by radial voltage source converter (VSC) technology-based HVDC point-to-point links for projects that are more than X kilometres (km) away from their onshore connection points.
• On-going planning for transmission system strengthening and expansion.
• Business plans to fund new ports and vessels and have new transmission system operators (TSOs).

• Development of distant offshore bulk power wind parks of several gigawatts (GW).
• Continued phasing out of coal-fired and nuclear power plants.
• Stronger system integration on a European level by balancing generation and load.
• Flexibility of power and enabling of power trading.
• Offshore wind parks connected to one another and tapped into cross-country links.

Beyond 2020
• System integration processes, enabling a European-wide overlay grid that is mainly based on HVDC, built to interconnect wind parks and pumped hydro storages in the North and large solar power plants in the South along with the European load centres.
• Planning of trans-continental power transmission to connect solar power plants in the African deserts to Eastern Europe and even Asia.

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