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I am professional energy journalist, writer and editor who has been chronicling the renewables and fossil fuel energy sectors since 2008.  I am passionate about the energy transition, so much so...

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  • Nov 9, 2021
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A highly ambitious initiative to roll out a worldwide web of electricity interconnectors to trade solar and wind power across continents and time zones won high-profile backing at COP26 this week. The ‘One Sun One World One Grid’ concept is beguilingly simple, but implementing it promises to be anything but. The initiative is gaining political traction, yet the scope for complications is huge. Energy Flux takes a high-level look.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 9, 2021

Seb, the idea of a global power grid has a history extending well into the last century, and it has everything to do with attempting to provide a rational foundation for the religion of renewable energy.

"It would take a tiny piece of the Sahara Desert to power the world," or so the logic goes. Yet that any country would permit itself to become dependent for its supply of electricity on either the weather, or one country in Africa, is trivially absurd.

Allowing religion to guide rational decisionmaking has always had disastrous consequences, but none greater than now.

Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on Nov 13, 2021

And yet world leaders are clamouring to sign up to projects such as this, which obviously won’t happen. I guess they needed to be seen to be “doing something” at COP

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Nov 9, 2021

Nonsense, sorry for that. Sun and wind power have been created as distributed resources. The intermittency is a part of the beauty. Mankind has to utilize them in their locations. This is a kind of energy resources democracy.

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Seb Kennedy on Nov 13, 2021

Yes, but even distributed systems can have outsized effects. In parts of Australia, surging rooftop PV is eroding grid demand and that is making it technically and economically harder for thermal generators to run. Trouble is, the grid needs the system services these plants provide

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 11, 2021

So much is wrong with that idea!  The articles lists a few problems, the other commenters a few more.

 

Rather than add to the list, I'll point out something it gets right: 

The global super-grid idea is a proposed solution to a very serious problem with renewable energy, namely the local variability.  The US gov department of energy has funded many studies that show that using long distance transmission to aggregate renewable resources over a large area does tend to reduce the variability.  Unfortunately, the resulting variability is still too high, even over areas as large the existing US grids (i.e. CAISO, West, SPP, ERCOT, MISO, Southeast, PJM, JYISO, and ISO-NE).  Hence, adherents hope that ever more interconnection will solve the problem.

 

It is long past time for the environmental community to accept renewables for what they are: a way to prolong our addiction to fossil fuel while pretending to do the opposite.  Fossil fuel is by far, the best way to cope with variability on the grid, and renewables add more variability.

 

We must ultimately admit that deep decarbonization via renewables also requires a significant use of fossil fuel with CC&S (with all the problems that will entail), or simply adopt the only solution which has ever produced a deeply decarbonized grid in the real world: nuclear combined with hydro. 

Seb Kennedy's picture
Seb Kennedy on Nov 13, 2021

Very interesting way to put it: “Fossil fuel is by far, the best way to cope with variability on the grid, and renewables add more variability.”

 

The more I look at it, the more insurmountable the variability issue seems to be. Reliability is under appreciated but that will change if unreliable supply becomes the norm

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 14, 2021

The reliability issue another reason why the grids of wealthy and developing countries can't be interconnected.  Reliability is a luxury the developing countries can't afford, as it require lots of "reserve capacity", which is another way of saying that in addition to the power plants that do the main work of the grid, build even more power plants that only get used a few hours per year, just to avoid a few blackouts.

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Seb Kennedy on Nov 16, 2021

I agree Nathan and I ask that question in the piece: how do you protect a reliable power grid when connecting it to an unreliable one? The point you make about reserve capacity being a luxury is highly relevant, particularly in emerging economies that suffer from blackouts or load shedding.

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