The development of alternative energy has to go hand in hand with a reinforcement of the electrical grid, otherwise the latter will eventually become so busy and will cap the production to its capacity. Such is the case with Germany’s grid, which is an example of an imbalanced structure of solar and wind energy harvesters on one hand and the outdated grid, on the other.
Following a report from published in the NY Times, we find out the opinion of Oxford University economist Dieter Helm, who stated that “basically, governments have allowed the buildup of wind without thinking through the grid consequences. There are two responses: Stop wasting so much on the rapid development of wind and its questionable economics, or plough on regardless, in which case enormous grid investments are urgently needed.”
In most cases, the proliferation of alternative energy is done by government subsidies, but these are made without taking into consideration that it’s also necessary to invest in the grid. Up to 100 billion euros ($138 billion) are necessary to upgrade the grid over the next decade.
The projected production capacity, the one that’s been heavily invested in, is not always working at maximum parameters, but when that happens, the companies managing the grid need to put a hold on everything, because there’s too much energy to cope with. For example, when wind blew harder in Germany recently, their usual 5 GW reached 20 GW, and cross-border connection with grids in neighboring countries had to be shut down because they couldn’t handle the spike.
That could have been the moment for storing the excess energy into huge batteries, but that’s another chapter.
“There are already lots of constraints on the grid — for example, Danish wind blocks the German grid. You can do it if you optimally build it, which raises the question of when are you going to optimally build an optimal grid,” said Mabey. “The Germans need to build 17,000 kilometers [10,653 miles] of new grid just internally.”
However, Europe is planning to build a supergrid, just like the U.S. and people are starting to think outside the box, distributing the load. China, on the other hand, is building their network properly from the beginning, with European technology. While in Europe you have to give the bureaucratic system about 10 years to approve a new power line, China is more flexible at this chapter.
“The idea of the interconnected E.U. supergrid is not without challenges,” said Nick Jenkins, a professor of renewable energy at Cardiff University. “When you dive into the detail, there are more questions left unanswered than answered. The truth is that no one knows the answer.”
“The core discussion is no longer nukes versus renewable. That is long gone,” said Nick Mabey of influential environmental think tank E3G. “It has become pipes versus wires. Do we want to stay reliant on Russian gas or use our own resources to achieve energy security?”
Energy security is indeed on the agenda of the most advanced countries in Europe, but what about the rest of them? Will places like Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia and so on still remain dependent on Russian oil and gas, or will they invest or be invested in? It remains to be seen, time will surely say its lines, but time is also the one ticking away and some engineering/political issues between a yet not sufficiently united Europe bring further CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.