The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
Increasing electricity demand for a decarbonised economy provides opportunities for new ways of thinking
Europe’s energy landscape is facing a watershed moment. A convergence of factors is urgently pushing decarbonisation of both energy systems and big industrial processes like steel, fertiliser production or heavy mobility.
To meet European energy and climate ambitions, including those newly set out in the REPowerEU Plan, current fossil fuel generation capacity needs to be replaced with renewables—a big challenge in itself.
At the same time, electricity demand is increasing dramatically which also poses the challenge of massively adding new renewables capacity in the long run. But with a coordinated approach to implement new made-in-Europe technologies that are becoming available, it is possible.
ADD CAPACITY QUICKLY
Existing renewable energy sources, specifically wind and solar power, will need to be capitalised on in order to add new capacity to the system in a reasonable timescale. In the Nordics there is a fair amount of unused land and establishing wind farms is less complicated from a permitting viewpoint. But the picture looks very different across the rest of Europe where conflicts between local interests and power needs exist.
The scale of new electricity supply that is anticipated based on commitments made in various European plans and ambitions is massive. This is evident in the recent Esjberg Declaration by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands which will see 150 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity deployed in the North Sea by 2050.
To deliver on that goal, newer offshore wind technologies will deliver the biggest impact. As it is relatively cost-effective with a fast speed of deployment, it is completely foreseeable that there will be a massive instalment of floating offshore wind in the North Sea this decade.
In fact, in order to build out enough capacity to fulfil targets set in the “Fit for 55” package, additional multi-GW offshore wind projects would need to be commissioned as early as 2030.
Generating electricity offshore solves many issues but raises new ones. How do we best bring this power on-land, distribute to consumers and ensure grid stability?
Today, offshore wind farms use individual point-to-point connections in order to collect the electricity, but from a long-term perspective, and at scale, it will be more cost-effective to build high-voltage direct current (HVDC) grids in the sea instead.
In order to construct such grids, HVDC breaker systems will also be needed. This technology is currently being developed and has been verified in a European-funded project. Some interesting new technologies are emerging in this area, such as SCiBreak.
If we are successful in massively scaling renewables, the issue causing fluctuating prices still remains. For both wind and solar, we are dependent on weather for generation. One way to balance this is to use a renewable energy source that is out of phase with both solar and wind: wave power.
Taking advantage of this technology, generation from an offshore power system could be made more consistent through wave power generation, even during low wind periods. Additionally, this could decrease the eventual need for storage capacity on land.
Consistent generation Wave power’s production profile complements wind and solar generation cycles (source: CorPower)
TRANSMISSION AND DISTRIBUTION
Transmission and distribution are the next pieces of the puzzle, as the existing grid has its constraints. It is generally more difficult to get permission for, and to build, new transmission and distribution infrastructure than it is to take care of existing grids, hence it is very important to focus on maintenance and optimised operations.
New technologies are emerging on the market that open opportunities: satellite imaging for maintenance planning, drone inspections of powerlines and equipment, digital twin software to optimise operations, and dynamic line rating to extend the usage envelope.
These technologies are enabled by a combination of advances in monitoring hardware, communication technology and increased calculation capacity. Examples of new actors in this segment include Hepta Airborne and Enline which both contribute with novel approaches to their area.
To truly accelerate adding production capacity and optimising the grid for this, coordination between Member States is crucial. The implementation of these projects requires very intensive investments and collaboration.
The Transmission System Operators (TSOs), industry and governments need to join forces in order to look at cost-effective grid installations. An excellent example of this could be seen recently at WindEurope where several member states, TSOs, industry and NGOs released a joint declaration in support of the expansion of offshore wind in Europe.
However, it is not yet entirely clear how such projects will be best implemented. One option could be through Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEIs) from the European Commission. Given the urgency, more straightforward procurement procedures would also increase the speed of implementation as well as expedited permitting.•
This is the second in a series of three articles in which Johan Söderbom examines what next-generation technology means for the energy transition and the opportunities that lie within. Click here to read the first article.
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