Can renewable energy sources power the world?
Can renewable energy sources power the world?

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Can renewable energy sources power the world?

2 Balancing renewable supply and demand

There are plenty of problems, as well as solutions, involved in a future of balancing energy supply and demand with increasing amounts of renewables.

Watch the following video, in which the need for flexibility in demand, storage and backup supplies from conventional power stations are discussed. It also describes the very large magnitude of renewable resources and the desirability of grid links to other European countries and perhaps North Africa, in the DESERTEC proposals.

The existing grid links in Northern Europe are shown, together with the plans to expand these greatly by 2030 – including a proposed ‘offshore supergrid’ with nodes in the North Sea, the Baltic and Bay of Biscay.

The UK Government’s offshore grid initiative is also discussed. Creating an offshore grid would be a challenge, but one that is achievable, depending on the time scale.

Download this video clip.Video player: track_03_renewable_energy_and_the_uk_the_challenges_of_balancing_renewable_supply_and_demand.mp4
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While the government has adopted a range of targets for renewable energy and carbon reduction, there's still a lot of work to do to ensure that targets are met. As the UK installs increasing numbers of renewable electricity generators, many of them in remote locations, there's an increasing need for new transmission lines to connect them to the National Grid. And because wind and solar power output is variable, new ways of balancing supply and demand are being developed. These involve a mixture of demand management, storage, backup from conventional power stations, and new grid connections to other countries.
Over the years, renewable generators have faced huge difficulties in getting their generators connected to the network. Various innovation projects and various incentives on distribution network operators have improved that situation. There's still a lot to do. Beyond that, it's about supply demand balance. As the renewable components of the energy infrastructure grows, energy storage can help with that. Demand response can help with that. And contingency provided by fossil fuel power stations will still be part of that picture for quite some time.
But if the demand response part, the energy efficiency part, and hopefully the energy storage part can come together, then the need for that contingency reserve will remain really just theoretical need most of the time.
We're at the very early stages of a transformation. If we look just at Scotland for example, five, six years ago renewables in the form of hydro provided 20 percent of our electricity. This year it will be over 40 percent. Scotland has fantastic wind, wave, and tidal resources. For other countries to really take forward that level of renewable energy, we need to see technological advances and greater interconnection. We need to see Europe connected up as one grid, for example, when we can transport wind, wave, and tidal power from the north of Europe to the south of Europe. When we can export solar power from North Africa to Southern Europe. And also need to see a greater focus on storage.
So how do we convert electricity when it's generated when renewable sources are high, how do we convert that? How do we store it? And then how do we transport it and use it when it's needed? Those are the challenges that we have to unlock if renewables is to become our absolute principal source of energy.
Over a continent as large as Europe, the varying climate conditions are a key driving force in planning a renewable future. There may be high winds and cloudy skies in Scotland, but at the same time, the Mediterranean could see strong sunshine and gentle breezes. To take advantage of this complimentary balance of resources, Europe will need to add to the existing networks of interconnectors that link countries' electricity systems.
The interconnectors that are there presently, to the Netherlands to France, to Northern Ireland and to the Republic of Ireland, are important features of both the GB system and the systems that they're connected to. In the future, there will be more interconnectors. There will be common codes that define how interconnectors are used. Demand response along with renewable generation will therefore be transnational, and there will be cross-border flows.
So for example, if you have a minor crisis in the UK but a major crisis across in France or the Netherlands, then you're going to rely on resources in the UK to support the UK. But also to do more than that, and to support through the interconnectors. Interconnection allows that. And the same way a high resource availability- let's say for example there's a lot of photovoltaic availability in continental Europe, but not so much in Britain. That could happen. The interconnectors are there to allow us to share in that resource.
Most of Europe's existing grid interconnectors involve undersea power transmission cables linking to grid nodes on land. But there are new proposals to build a European offshore super grid with grid connection nodes located in the middle of the North Sea, the Baltic, and the Bay of Biscay.
Clearly we need to look at National Grid's role in developing offshore super grids and in developing these projects. Presently, National Grid's role is for the wires in England and Wales, and operating the system. And our licence prohibits us from building interconnectors. But after saying that, we are part of the solution. We have been part of a number of working groups looking into the benefits of these solutions. There is an initiative been on taken by the government- it's the North Sea Offshore Grid Initiative. National Grid have played a key part of that. That's looked at what the networks would look like in 2030, and how do you get there.
Once that's demonstrated, if you do need significant more interconnectors, and you need a lot more offshore wind, a significant benefit in actually creating a North Sea grid. It's a challenge, but it's a challenge that I believe is achievable, depending on the pace we go at to get there.
End transcript
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What are the various energy supply pathways that UK could follow to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050? You’ll move on to that next.


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