This is simply a great idea, I just want to start by saying that. I love and am in awe of the vision and prospects this plan could bring to fruition, and it seems so ingenious to boot.
A future in which continent-spanning electricity grids feed the many hungry nations of Europe, Iceland and N. Africa has recently been plotted out by multiple energy ventures and renewable project giants such as DESERTEC and the EU. As you can see in the map above, the grid would stretch from the Saharan Desert, through all of Europe, up into Scandinavia and across the ocean to Iceland, connecting the entire region into one ‘energy-continent’.
This plan was initially suggested when people began noticing that energy projects in the UK, Europe and Iceland, as well as those in the deserts of Africa, were actually doing things thought irrational, uneconomic and plain stupid (think DESERTEC). Once this realisation set in, the idea of a pan-European/Saharan grid quickly formed.
With lines already laid connecting Ireland to the UK, France, the Netherlands, and now a record-breaking 950 mile long cable between Iceland and the UK, with plenty more in the works, this initially crazy daydream is rapidly becoming reality.
What is the real beauty of this project however is the renewable side of things; the whole grid will be supplied by low-carbon tech alone, none of that fossil fuel nonsense. As each country associated with the super-grid generates their renewable energy through different means, such as geothermal in Iceland, wind in the UK, or hydro in the Scandinavians, it plays to each and every country’s specialities. Rather than laying new lines and sticking wind turbines somewhere that ain’t windy, the grid will transport wind energy to the required regions from those nations which can easily provide.
With peak times being met by green energy flying in from abroad, for the states that have proven their worth in one or two particular renewable energy sources and produce surpluses at a consistent level, the monetary rewards are tantalising to say the least. Think of a scenario thus - France fears it can’t supply the energy needed to run its nation at full pelt, so it calls on the super-grid to supply some wind energy from us Brits, supplemented by some Swiss hydroelectric. Meanwhile, the Sahara (pumping out silly amounts of solar energy) is sending sunlight to Norway and Spain, and receiving a tasty return on their energy investment. It’s a complete win-win situation.
What I love most about this idea however is that it encourages countries to generate well-above their general capacity, as any surplus produced would be paid for by a nation requiring the same.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some teething issues. In the short-term, the costs and logistics of building and finally connecting together a grid on this scale are literally unheard of or tested, and will likely prove a major stumbling block. Aside from this, setting a price worthy of drawing all nations in will be no mean feat, and there is a good chance that sovereignty issues and clashes will get in the way.
Long-term, whats to stop a nation from investing some money in renewable tech, which is then fed into the system for a nice return, whilst they continue to burn fossils for their domestic needs? Of course, setting a priority for domestically produced green energy over any other forms will be key, and powerful leadership and management will be required. This comes perilously close to the well-known problem of leakage, a common flaw in ecosystem payment policy and REDD+ (please Google if you’re unaware of these, they make for a great read), and has been thus far very difficult to tackle.
We also have the problem of incentivising nations, in the long run, to continue selling their green energy to the outside world, even when countries today are struggling to fulfil even a 10% renewable mix domestically. Hopefully, all of these can be solved through the clever use of bodies such as the UN and EU, and smart quotas, policies and tariffs on transferred energy.
Despite these, I feel this could be a real winner in the fight for a cleaner future, as it not only plays to the economically-centered nations who cannot turn down some extra dosh, but at the same time brings the carbon emissions of tens of countries who are all now in the race to bring clean energy to the forefront of development. I for one, am damn excited.