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Renewable interconnectors to “span the globe,” as costs fall, technology improves

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Source: Asian Renewable Energy Hub

The distribution of solar and wind energy from one side of a continent to the other, and even between continents is now “eminently feasible”, a leading energy researcher has claimed, thanks to rapid improvements in technology and falling costs.

Speaking at last week’s APVI Asia Pacific Solar Research Conference in Melbourne, ANU professor Andrew Blakers said high voltage DC transmission technology was “moving ahead in leaps and bounds,” while costs were coming “down and down.”

This was a trend, he said, that was largely being driven by China, where wind, PV and hydro were in the west, while most of the people were in the east: “there’s 3,000km in-between, and the span is being bridged with high voltage DC.”

“Intercontinental and intracontinental-scale transmission is now eminently feasible,” Blakers told the conference on Thursday.

“The really big systems now have voltages of around 1.1 megavolts, they’re traversing 3,000km, (with a capacity of) 12GW – which is a third of the Australian peak demand – for a single (cable)… with a loss of 10 per cent,” he said.

“Within a few years I think you’ll start to hear talk of linking Vladivostok with London, with a 2 mega-volt cable, with a loss of 10 per cent from one side of Asia to the other.

“High voltage DC is basically going to span the globe.”

But it’s not just China that’s pushing the technology forward. Around the world, the wide geographical dispersion of renewables – “many, many generators in many, many different places” – was going to be key to 100 per cent renewable energy powered grids.

“It’s a really important enabling technology for high renewables, because it allows you to spread your renewables over very large areas, with very large capacity in different weather and demand systems,” he said.

“If you spread your PV and wind collectors from Townsville to Adelaide, and across to Tasmania, and everywhere between, then there is zero probability the weather will be bad everywhere,” he said, adding that it would also hugely reduce the amount of storage needed to make systems stable.

As readers of RenewEconomy would know, the idea of installing an undersea HVDC cable from Western Australia’s wind and solar rich Pilbara region to Indonesia has been a hot topic in Australian renewables lately, with two separate groups proposing there own versions of the plan.

The first group, Pilbara Solar, is proposing construction of a 1500km sub-sea cable from the Dampier Peninsula to east Java, to export the generation from three gigawatt-scale solar farms – and is hoping the federal government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility will support its cause.

Pilbara_Java_cable

The interconnector cable route proposed by Pilbara Solar

The other, The Asian Renewable Energy Hub consortium (AREH), led by InterContinental Energy, CWP Energy Asia and global wind leader Vestas, has earmarked 7,000 square kilometres of East Pilbara land for solar and wind farms it hopes to connect to West Java via a 2500km HVDC cable, and potentially running it on through to Singapore.

As Simon Holmes à Court wrote in this article on RenewEconomy just over a week ago, the idea of running an ‘extension cord’ all the way from Australia to Indonesia would still considered crazy by some.

But to Blakers, the projects proposed for Western Australia are just the beginning.

“In the future, for Australia, we could imagine …a lot of cables …. including cables heading from Pilbara, north to Indonesia, meeting cables coming down through China and going west to India, and east to the Philippines, and so forth,” he said.  

  • technerdx6000

    Connect every continent with HVDC. The sun is always shining somewhere, 24 hours a day. Minimal storage required

    • Mike Westerman

      Until of course a cyclone knocks over your towers…I think Puerto Rico is illustrating well that local supply and local contingency is more robust, with long transmission lines for back up, not the other way around.

      • RobertO

        Hi Mike Westerman, undersea cables are not effected by cyclones and if you bury your land cables then both fire and flooding become less of an issue. Yes local supply is better but we need robust interconnects as well in our move to RE. Bigger network equals better supply of solar from the north to the south and hydro from the south to the north. We have the longest HVDC buried cable in the world (Murray Link)

        • Mike Westerman

          True but they are instead affected by degradation, shipping and seismic events, especially since the proposed links cross an intercontinental trench. Purari Project looked at exporting power to Australia from PNG: the cost of the undersea killed it. Since then local generation plus local PHES has made these grand schemes irrelevant. Indonesia has enough geothermal to supply Java, and enough hydro in Kalimantan, Sumatera and Sulawesi if supplemented with solar. There are enough rooftops to supply half their energy needs if they got on with it. China and India will benefit from large scale HVDC, and Laos and Myanmar made also need such links to export to these countries from their significant hydro and solar resources. But I don’t share the vision of intercontinental grids, any more than I think a link to the Pilbara makes sense.

      • Serge Pavlovsky

        how often you are left without internet because cyclone knocked your towers?
        if you prefer local internet, what are you doing here?

        • Mike Westerman

          Funny you should ask: in the 2010 we had massive floods in Brisbane. Power out for almost 3 days, no phone either, but the fibre broadband stayed on, tho’ we had to carry the UPS for the DTE across 4 suburbs to find power to keep it charged. Phones kept charge with a small portable USB solar charger. The internet is resilient precisely because it is designed to operate as a network of networks rather than a top down hierarchy. It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to see the same would apply to a grid of grids.

    • Michael Murray

      How much connection are you going to need to supply Europe or the US when they are in the dark and where would you put the solar panels ?

      • technerdx6000

        Outback Australia is big enough. You don’t need much room at all

        • Michael Murray

          I’m not worry about the amount of space you need but how much connection you need by cable from Australia to the US to power the US overnight with Australian solar PV. How would you route it ? Is this really a feasible thing to build ? I’ve seen plans a long time ago for powering Europe using solar PV with generation in northern Africa and HDVC but not the US.

          • technerdx6000

            It would be a global connection, spanning the smallest bodies of water. I would go from WA to Indonesia, to Asia, then up into Russia and across to Alaska.

          • Mike Westerman

            Nuts – just run 13,000km from Kazakstan to LA. KAZ has equally good solar resources and is about 12h out in solar time. But a given pumped hydro somewhere would probably be cheaper!

          • Michael Murray

            But how many gigawatts are you going to need to move and what sort of connection does that require? I tried to look it up but I can’t find the overnight electricity demand of the US but it must be high. Particularly after they convert all their cars, transport, factory production and heating to electricity which is, after all, what we need to do to stop CO2 emissions.

            Then there is Europe. Plus India and China and all the other billions in the world clamouring for first world living standards and electricity consumption levels.

            I’m just questioning your assumption that we can do this just with solar and no storage (and presumably no wind).

          • Mike Westerman

            Michael, I remember as a student we did a project on the idea of network of satellites connected by microwave beams and with enormous solar sails. They would also beam energy to earth to remote collectors (so no-one would get fried). Such ideas are technically feasible but “fantastic” in the literal sense of that term. Meanwhile we pump enough nano-particles of plastic into the ocean to ensure our demise before any fandangled energy source will be needed.

          • Michael Murray

            The political instability side of it would worry me as well. I’ve seen the theoretical discussion of powering Europe using solar panels in North Africa but it’s just too politically unstable. As climate changes starts to really bite I imagine global political instability will just get worse.

          • Mike Westerman

            I’d agree – political and climatic instability is a perfect storm. The upside of scarcity is it drives innovation and efficiency and those are lessons humanity needs first.

          • Michael Murray

            OK I found some numbers for my own interest. The latest HDVC connection planned in China will handle 12 GW. The UK draws around 37 GW on average presumably it peaks above this. So 3 cables like this to supply the UK. Europe is about 10 times the population of the UK. So 30 cables like this for Europe.

            UK version of NEM-watch here

            http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

          • technerdx6000

            According to my research and calculations, the world uses about 200PWh of energy per year for everything. Not just electricity. That works out to be about a constant rate of 22TW. If we were to build a 30TW solar farm, we could power the whole world. The area required for a 30TW solar farm is 300 square kilometres. This is 11% of the area of WA. The cables required to carry this sort of energy is a different matter altogether.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. That’s very interesting.

  • Ray Miller

    Buckminister Fuller should be credited with the idea, maybe the world grid may happen in the next few decades?

    http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/newsletters/1995/buckminster-fuller-on-the-global-energy-grid.shtml

    • Joe

      They have The North Sea Grid in Europe so Australia to Asia at least isn’t a crazy idea.

      • stucrmnx120fshwf

        Agreed, see my comments above.

  • dono

    I am certainly no expert but the prospect of a short circuit on 2Mv DC is challenging .

    • stucrmnx120fshwf

      As challenging as a liquid hydrogen fire, on million tonne tanker?

      • dono

        Hi Stucrmnx, Well the two are similar unpleasant situations but a fire on a H2 tanker while terrible has its release of energy restricted by how much O2 can get to the fire while a shot on a DC cable with 3000km of stored energy as capacitance can be released almost instantly. But having said that I presume there is some circuit protection in the form of a circuit breaker ,

        • RobertO

          Hi All, H2 fires burn very quickly and burn upwards and out wards at the same time, i.e run down hill away from H2 fire. LPG on other hand sinks to ground. Run uphill if possible to escape fire. If I had a choice I would chose H2 as it is quicker burning and floating upwards quickly at the same time. Both will depleat the O2 available according to there size but H2 will cause more movement in the air, and therefore may be more survivable at a given distance for the same size fire.
          Mythbuster did a story on H2 verser LPG and it was very interesting.

          • stucrmnx120fshwf

            LH2, does have the advantage of not pooling in an area, any leaks, go upward, to be blown off the Earth, by the solar wind, the residue of a fire, is water H2O, which becomes humidity, clouds, rain, river, ocean. LH2, is wonderful stuff, for aircraft, new composite jetliners are light and light efficient fuel, suits them, no longer heavy metal, they don’t require dense, heavy, fuel. The fuslage width, can be increased, with little increased weight, to accommodate the higher volume of the LH2, this being the streamlined part of the aircraft. The lighter fuel, allows the wings, to be smaller, to lift the lighter fuel, thus giving the aircraft less drag, than heavy metal, dense, inefficient fueled aircraft, ramming their way through the air, fighting the weight, of both the aircraft and the fuel. The LH2 aircraft, glides, fast, at high altitude, take off and landing also being easier, due to the lighter weight, of the fuel and structures, compared to the available thrust, the turbofan manufacturers, can supply.

            That is, a high thrust, to weight ratio, where the surface area, volume laws, work to the advantage, of large aircraft, increasing the width of the aircraft, increases the drag, of the aircraft, less than reducing, the surface area, of the wings. Thus, to lift the combined structure and fuel, the thrust to weight ratio and weight lifting drag ratio, per passenger, seat kilometer, is much better.

            Then there’s the advantages of light weight LH2, on a shipping vessel, reducing the hydrodynamic drag, thrust to weight ratio again, on the hull, per kilowatt hour, deliverable kilometer. once again, the surface area volume laws, advantages the economies of scale, efficiencies, bulk LH2, has over LNG, in the long run, in a cheap solar power, clean disruptions economy.

          • Dennis Abbott..

            My feeling is in the future, Australia will export LH2 by sea and solar electricity via HVDC cable, my brother’s paper mentions this and some of the points you have made above. Look it up, it may be of interest.
            Abbott Keeping the energy debate clean; how do we supply the World’s energy needs?

          • RobertO

            Hi Dennis Abbott (Hope your no relation of the Mad Monk). At this time the COALition has only eyes for coal (and may be a little monument building by the PM). I hope it will change to a cleaner environment and if I understand correctly each building on this planet on average receives enough “Nuclear Energy” to be a positive receptor if we in the world want to go that way (yes some use more that they get but it is the overall average that counts). I have a steep roof and on the pod cast date 14 Dec Stefan was saying he was surprised on how effective solar panels on his south facing roof were. My house is blocked on the north and east sides and the west is used for water. I am going to try south side to see if it will work.

          • Dennis Abbott..

            Hi RobertO, No not related, and Yes I agree Our Sun – Natures Nuclear Fusion Reactor is more than capable to provide for our energy needs. An energy mix of wind, PV and especially CST with storage, would enable Australia to be energy secure and produce clean fuel for transportation, as well as export RE.
            Good luck with your PV placement.

  • Jack Gilding

    I might have missed it but I haven’t read of anyone from Indonesia saying “the solution to our energy supply is to buy electricity from Australia”.

  • Marc_A

    This is the very thing that GEIDCO are pushing – http://www.geidco.org/html/qqnyhlwen/col2017080814/column_2017080814_1.html

    Their entire mission is global energy interconnection and a global grid that takes renewables from where they are (Australia, Africa, Central Asia etc.) to where they are needed.

  • Hettie

    Transmission from one side of Asia to the other with only 10% loss? That sounds astonishing. But technology is moving so fast!
    Transmission loss has always been such a big deal.

    • Mike Westerman

      Don’t get too excited Hettie – there is a difference between the possible and the probable. You have shown with your installation that thinking globally but acting locally does just fine, with the advantage it limits the reliance on experts!

      • Hettie

        Indeed, Mike, and perhaps I’m really asking one of our resident experts to call bullshit.
        I have always found the concept of distributed renewable generation with storage and micro or mini grids very attractive. Huge grids are hugely expensive and vulnerable.
        Some sort of cost comparison seems warranted. Oh wait! WA.

        • stucrmnx120fshwf

          We have a national grid in Australia, I live in Tasmania, we’ve had a cable, for decades to the mainland. The only other way to transfer huge amounts of energy, across oceans, is liquid hydrogen. It’s quite practical, to use liquid hydrogen, in bulk, it makes good aviation and shipping fuel. No good for road vehicles, but if cables like the ones already in Europe, the US, Canada, Asia, can do it more cheaply, why not.

          Solar could become very very cheap, sparking a peak decade of industrial revolution, like the roaring twenties. Or what’s been happening in China and India, since the end of the cold war. China and the US, in the last decade, in transportation, Chinese high speed rail, US unconventional hydrocarbons, the US hardly imports any oil any more, they might even export soon.

          Due to 4 decades of the Great Stagnation in the developed world, we’ve become sceptical of change, even if it’s just happened. We’re battered by the GFC, for a decade, the longest, deepest recession since the Great Depression. So when they suggest something, as big as the national highways, railways, electrification we recoil and say, it can’t happen, in spite of all the evidence.

  • Be

    I used to love Buckminster Fuller’s idea of a globe spanning grid. But now it seem the wrong path. It’s cheaper to do local solar, wind, storage and hydrocarbons from wastes. I see the value of the vertical long grids for both the major continental groups. As pointed out microgrids would give greater resiliency. Even the large interconnects only transfer 5-20% of the demand peak. Russia uses gas to influence other countries, won’t the same sort of things happen with multi country grids?

  • RobertO

    Hi All, We need interconnects before we need international connections. Yes let the international players do their thing, but make sure that it has benfits for Australia first.

    • Jonathan Prendergast

      Not sure about that. In Australia we have ample space and sunlight to work towards more local based energy. In Asia they are land constrained and very dense.

  • Peter Gaskin

    So Australia who struggles to supply its own electricty demand even with use of coal / gas / diesel power, should now be able to supply clean electricity to Indonesia. Have I missed something here?

    • Joe

      We have more than enough sun and wind to share with our Indonesia friends.

      • Peter Gaskin

        Surely you are joking. SA has leased diesel generators and the treasurer has the power to order gas generators to turn on and we have the battery. Why – because wind and solar do not meet our demand. We still have limited load shedding – 1 company has volunteered – for a price, to suffer a 4 hour blackout to avoid further load shedding. This is not old news – this was about to happen earlier this week when the cool change came in early

        • RobertO

          Hi Peter Gaskin, This is an idea for some time in the future. If you think about the past, if you were alive in 1930 and someone said “One day man will fly to the moon” you would have thought they were mad! Just because we’re are using wind, solar, gas, battery, and diesel to get us through this summer and may be next summer (I suspect not) does not stop us planning ahead. If they prove HVDC intercontinental then maybe we will see interstate WA to SA. My own belief is that shortly after the election in SA Wetherill will announce an interconnect SA to NSW to allow more export (wind) power from SA and to create more stable wholesale market in SA to prevent price gaming by some players every time a interconnect into Vic goes down.

          • Peter Gaskin

            Labor announced the interconnector to nsw many years ago. I believe technology changes and I have lived in a period of unimaginable change. If we have excess electricity we can send it to vic. Weatherill is highly unlikely to be making any decisions after the next election

          • RobertO

            Hi Peter Gaskin, Labour in SA are not pushing the interconnect (Why?) Weatherill is not going to be leader in SA after the next election? The PM of Australia blast SA will have no effect on how people vote. 33% of houses in SA have solar on their roof tops because it saves them money, and they think if it save me money why is SA gov pushing for more solar or wind (It can’t be that it will save money will it?).
            As for coal power station they are now too expensive to build, no private invester would put money into a new coal power station (called the first tipping point), and given that we are very close to the point where it is more expensive to feed a coal power station (NSW sell coal to Japan at $110 per ton Free on Board your ship) that it is to build new solar or new wind power stations (second tipping point) Solar and wind have free fuel supplies (and 1 ton of coal is about 1 MWhr of power). To keep it simple people are moving away from coal because of the costs

        • Mike Westerman

          We have had a decade of nonsense instead of clear Federal leadership – the Feds have chopped and changed effectively driving away the large scale investment needed, plus have overseen a debacle called the NEM. The states have reacted by each doing their own thing. The Chief Scientist has roundly and rightly lambasted the lot of them. As a result solar supply is well ahead of the necessary storage, particularly pumped hydro for daily cycle and longer storage, and batteries for behind the meter and fast response storage. But at least Weatherall is getting it rolling, while the Feds continue to kick the can down the road. SA should have enough pumped hydro and batteries to support a stable system exporting significant state income earning revenue by 2022 unless SA voters are stupid enough to support more LNP dithering.

          • Peter Gaskin

            SA has no pumped hydro and is unlikely to. A battery storage is insignificant. Fed confusion is that we have 2 main parties with totally different ideas on renewables. Industry will not move forward while they do not trust next govt to overturn last govts policies. thats why industry will not build a new coal plant

          • Mike Westerman

            I’m currently working on 4 pumped hydro projects – not sure why u would pronounce they won’t happen. Rational consumers are installing batteries in SA because they have a payback of about 7y so you’re off the mark on that as well.

          • RobertO

            Hi Peter Gaskin, Have you heard of “Demand Management”
            Shock Jock’s on the radio will tell you it about asking (retired) people to turn off their air conditioners at peak times (to save money) so we can get past the peak demand of the electrical network. That’s “CRAP TRAP” to scare people. WA has had it for about 15 years and no, you as user do not need to do anything in WA to help. The network use smart techonolgy to reduce the amount of power an air conditioner can use (it still works at 85% rating) only when the network is nearing 95 % capacity. It stop the network from crashing out. (200,000 air conditioners 5 kW and above) all lose (about) 1 kW of power which make 200 MW off the peak draw amount). I tell people it like using “Eco Mode” to save power. Another way is to think about a Motorway (freeway), on Friday afternoon the need to be 4,or more lanes wide in each direction (M1 in Sydney need to be 8 or 9 lanes wide heading north). Apply “Demand Management” to the Motorway and you get only 2 or 3 lanes built as it is too expensive to build 8 or 9 lanes. To build for a peak which last only for a few hr per week is too expensive and the same issue applies power lines.

          • Peter Gaskin

            i know all about demand management and national statements. SA is only starting to get smart meters. A report from AEMO shows that a major manufacturer almost lost their power for 4 hours on Tuesday except the change came in early. otherwise SA has been forced to load shed – this is total shut down of power for various areas generally around 60,000 homes although there was a mistake with the last one and they cut 90,000 homes

  • grantoz

    What about a HVDC interconnect from East to West in Australia? WA could help provide supply during the evening demand peak in the eastern states. And there’s quite a bit of good solar and wind resource across the Nullarbor as I understand it.

    • technerdx6000

      This needs to be done sooner rather than later. Would really reduce the storage requirement

  • RobertO

    Hi All, another point about HVDC cables is that in the middle of it is Optical Fibre. The costs in 2005 were about $600 per km in a power cable whereas stand alone was about $200,000 per km. Given that it’s nearly 2018 the new price may be as low as $200 per km (or less mostly just the cost for the actual fibre) whereas the stand alone will still be about the $200,000 (and may be more as the costs of armour plating the cable have risen). Cables are lasting longer and are being insured so that the owner of the cable spreads the risk and the maunfacture pays part of the insurance so if they go out of business then the owner has someone to claim off. They may survive 60 years.

  • John Hopkins

    Electricity is not going to replace natural gas for many reasons; mostly all the local transmission infrastructure required (invertors/substations etc) as people ramp up energy demand (5x is usual) during cold weather. Add to this electric car charging and the variability that could occur here and the need for local, dispatchable electricity and/or heating energy becomes obvious.

    The answer to this is to split energy distribution (both long and short distances) between gas and electricity – an integrated energy system. Fuel cells add the final piece to the puzzle, in that a municiple fuel cell can be placed within an urban area providing high-quality electricity via any kind of gas (even low-grade biogas) without the need for any expensive new electricity infrastructure/transmission.

    Fuel cells are also dropping in price dramatically, they come to between 10-15c/kWh and are on a learning curve similar to solar in 2008. District heating is the other obvious advantage.

    However, gas is also used for home heating & cooking, industrial heat & processes, local energy storage, transport fuel of all kinds (& scales, both combustion & fuel cell), and industry feedstock for chemicals, plastics, etc.

    Hydrogen is the only thing that will substitute our current use of fossil fuel in many instances.

    For this reason, it makes sense to liquify it and transport it via ship, as the cost of solar continues to plummet. We are at 1.79c/kWh LCOE (w/ a PPA) in Mexico & the UAE. The trend is a straight line to 1c/kWh in 2019.

    The only problem with 1c/kWh solar is transporting it. Second stage cooling at an LNG terminal to bring H2 to liquid form comes with a 12.79% conversion loss http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319917303026 . Kobe in Japan has LH2 storage facilities built, and will be taking their first shipment via LH2 carrier in 2020.

    So I think this is the better option, although I can certainly see the advantages of cheap interconnections over shorter distances, and within a grid-balancing role (up to a point).

    • Mike Westerman

      John – gas being necessary is an interesting argument, although I would venture that much of our consumption is a cost thing: if our spaces were better insulated our heating costs would be low, but better insulation costs money. Also thermal storage is very cheap, so smoothing out demand by appropriate pricing would probably mean additional infrastructure is not needed. All land transport will be electrified in the next few years – the change will feed on itself, as old support infrastructure disappears and is replaced by the new, so I expect that most disruptions for it to be quicker than first imagined.

      So it is only air transport that is a challenge.

      Moving big volumes of energy around is starting to attract some thought, and it will be an interesting space to watch!

      • John Hopkins

        Aviation comes to about 5% of GHG emissions, although this is expected to climb.

        My feeling is that 2nd-gen biofuels (ie not energy crops) are the answer here – basically any agricultural or biomass waste. Lots of developments here although I think what is really going to take off (pardon the pun) is fast-growing seaweed – no necessity for land or potable water. Biojet is already available and really only needs policy support at this stage.

        The other option is synfuel via hydrogen, potentially biomethanation which carries almost no efficiency penalty; cost being the biogas reactor (cheap), 60 degrees celcius heat, and a source of CO/CO2.

        With regards hydrogen, its really worth reading the second McKinsey report http://hydrogencouncil.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Hydrogen-scaling-up-Hydrogen-Council.pdf ; its 80 pages and detailed, but certainly worth the effort even for the lay-person. The original report came out in March (of this year) I think, and it really builds on this with a detailed approach and practical guidelines. Europe has 850 hydrogen refuelling stations in the pipeline before 2025 (with financing); Japan has 170 guaranteed before 2025 (90 so far) and California has just greenlighted another $670 million for clean transport, while it already has 60 stations either built or in planning. Korea has plans for 320 I think, many of which its signed Norway’s Nel Hydrogen to build.

        The other investment requirements are in hydrogen production (electrolysis) and liquifaction/storage/distribution – by which I presume they mean LH2.