Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Last month, the European Commission (EC) called for construction of regional electric transmission connections across the North Sea, around the Baltic region, and around the Mediterranean Sea, to distribute solar and wind power to and across Europe. It’s all part of a plan to boost renewable energy from 8.5 percent of European energy consumption to 20 percent by 2020–and even more thereafter.

But the EC, the European Union’s executive body, acknowledges that getting these so-called supergrids built will mean forging new agreements between European countries for transmission planning and investment–much as the United States needs more cooperation between states to, for example, move wind power from the Midwest to major cities. “The wind power which consumers demand cannot be delivered without new networks,” the EC report says, and “there is little strategic planning” between nations to build the required connections.

However, several recent developments suggest that progress on transmission between European nations is possible. This summer, for example, a negotiator appointed by the EC convinced France to accept a new transmission connection with Spain, breaking a 15-year impasse over expanding power exchanges between the countries. Use of high-voltage DC (HVDC) technology will enable planners to bury the new line and thereby overcome local opposition to conventional overhead AC transmission lines.

The French-Spanish connection will help both countries balance power supply and consumption–especially Spain, which struggles at times to accommodate its installations of highly variable wind power, the largest in Europe. EC negotiator Mario Monti estimated that the link, called an interconnection, would reduce reliance on the countries’ least efficient power plants, thus avoiding 1.5 million tons per year of carbon-dioxide emissions (roughly the annual emissions of 600,000 cars).

Christian Kjaer, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association, a Brussels-based trade group, calls it a “major breakthrough” that shows how Europe can overcome entrenched opposition to such interconnections. “It’s a good example of why we need more than a national approach,” says Kjaer.

Meanwhile, proposals for HVDC grids to deliver clean power from offshore wind farms to European consumers are getting more detailed. In September, for example, Brussels-based environmental consulting firm 3E mapped out a blueprint for what a North Sea offshore wind-power grid might look like. In 3E’s design, 3,500 miles of underwater HVDC cables crisscross the North Sea, forming a network capable of hooking up 68,000 megawatts’ worth of new offshore wind farms–enough generating capacity to meet 13 percent of the region’s power consumption.

Gain the insight you need on energy at EmTech MIT.

Register today

5 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Arnejohs

Tagged: Energy, energy, renewable energy, solar power, wind power, power grid, supergrid, transmissions

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »