Just got back from a very interesting conference in London, titled “International Renewable Electricity: An essential system?” It was jointly organised by Claverton Energy Research Group, UK Energy Research Council (UKERC) and University College London (UCL) and participants representing many universities and research institutions were present. This was the “Big Renewables Scenario” that I talked a lot about in my evening classes, and is in many ways the polar opposite of the Transition Towns kind of approach.
An HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current – click here for Wikipedia article) supergrid is the key technology facilitating the roll-out of large scale renewables. Wind is famously fickle in any one time and place, but the larger the area and the greater the range of climatic zones the more dependable it becomes. A worldwide energy grid, in some ways like the world wide web for digital information, is the theoretical extreme. HVDC interconnections are being built now and will grow rapidly, linking Europe together, and to North Africa and the Middle East over the coming decade, with plans afoot to link to the Russian grid, and then later perhaps spanning the Atlantic to the North American Grid.
There are three bodies of work which were much discussed, and all show that utilizing large scale renewables is technically possible, economically sensible and ecologically necessary from a Co2 reduction standpoint.
Gregor Czisch’s PhD thesis written about 5 years ago on the benefits of very large scale wind is now being drawn upon by governments across Europe. As Gregor wasn’t there in person Andrew Smith of London Analytics gave an excellent synopsis of his highly technical thesis.
One of the key speakers was Mark Delucchi, who in Nov 09 co-authored with Mark Jacobson (click here for Wikipedia reference) the influential Scientific American Article on 100% renewable energy futures, including the challenging transport sector, in which he is an expert.
The Offshore Valuation (Offshore Valuation Group) is a just-published appraisal by UK government, research bodies and industry of the economic case for large scale wind and marine renewables, and was presented by Tim Helweg Larsen, one of the co-authors.
All excellent stuff, and considered in parallel with Desertec Solar (Desertec website)and an energy efficiency revolution, the Big Renewables vision begins to take shape. Humanity didn’t exit the Stone Age because the stone ran out but because we thought-up smarter ways of doing things. Hopefully we’ll exit the Fossil Fuel Age long before it all runs out!