The first electricity grid dedicated to renewable power becomes a political reality this month, because nine European countries draw up plans to link their clean energy projects around the North Sea.

Using thousands of kilometers of highly efficient undersea cables, one of the biggest criticism faced by renewable power will be solved: that unpredictable weather means it is unreliable.

It could act as a giant 30 GW battery for Europe’s clean energy, if connected to the many hydro-electric power stations in Norway, storing electricity on low demand and be an important step towards a continent-wide supergrid.

The countries involved in the project – Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and the UK – hope to bring up a plan by autumn, which involves building a high voltage direct current network within the next decade.

More than 100 GW of offshore wind projects are under development in Europe, around 10% of the EU’s electricity demand. The continent’s grid needs to be adapted, due to the surge in wind power. A study of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) outlined where the cables could be built, this being the starting point for the discussions between the nine countries.

The hydro plants in Norway could use excess power, generating electricity when the demand is high. The benefits of an offshore supergrid will not only be to allow the connection of offshore wind farms, but also the power trading between countries, improving the EU competitiveness.

There were some proposals for a renewable-electricity grid in the North Sea studied by the European Commission, and by the end of 2010 there will be a plan on this theme. The findings of the EC working group will be fed into the countries’ grid plan.

The North Sea grid’s cost has not been calculated, although in 2008, Greenpeace put the price of building a similar one by 2025, at about €15 bn – €20 bn. EWEA said in 2009 that the cost of connecting the proposed 100 GW wind farms and building interconnections, into which further wind and wave power farms could be plugged in future, will be around €30bn.

This supergrid, which has huge support from scientists, and politicians like the french president Nicolas Sarkozy, and Gordon Brown, will link huge solar
farms in southern Europe, producing electricity, either through photovoltaic cells, or by the sun’s heat concentration into boiling water and driving turbines, with marine, geothermal and wind projects on the continent.

The Nord Sea grid could be linked into grids proposed for a much larger German-led plan for renewables, called the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII). The aim is to provide 15 % of Europe’s electricity by 2050 or earlier. The plan was launched in November, last year, with partners like Munich Re, Siemens, E.O.N, ABB and Deutsche Bank. Its plan is to use solar power in Southern Europe and Northern Africa.

In this technology, mirrors are used to concentrate the sun’s rays on a fluid container, then the heated fluid drives turbines to generate electricity. CSP plants are used in the US and Spain but the scale of the DII project would be its biggest deployment ever.

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