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Supergrid news

by Jerome a Paris Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 07:20:25 AM EST

A lot of what we hear about the supergrid is hype, but some progress is made on actual new infrastructure which makes sense:

BritNed power cable boosts hopes for European supergrid

It stretches 260km under the North Sea, contains 23,000 tonnes of copper and lead, and may represent the first step towards a renewable energy revolution based on a European electricity "supergrid". The 500m BritNed cable, which has just entered operation, is the first direct current electricity link from the UK to another country in 25 years.

The high voltage cable, a joint venture between the UK National Grid and the Dutch grid operator TenneT, has a capacity of 1,000MW, the equivalent of a nuclear power station. It runs from the Isle of Grain in Kent to Maasvlakte, near Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

The hype, mainly, is about a grid that would connect offshore wind farms to one another in the North Sea in a sort of "offshore superhighway" - that makes no sense. What projects need is not a connection to each other, but a connection to the main grid. And given that each offshore wind project nowadays are 500MW or more, they basically each need their own cable to the grid (or, as in Germany, to special transformer platforms near the coasts which are then connected to the main grid via cables of even larger capacity).

What does make sense in terms of the overall grid is more connections between the semi-separate parts of the grid - connecting the UK, or Spain, or Italy, or Scandinavia, which are each to various degrees electricity "islands" (or peninsulas) off the main continental grid will have a lot of value, by allowing power to be managed over a large resource base. Shortfalls or surpluses in one area can more easily be managed if that area is well connected to other areas. On land, big transmission projects have been blocked - even more than generation projects - by local protests and it is really hard to build new high-voltage lines. The long planned second France-Spain line was finally authorised when it was decided to build it underground rather than above ground, something which more than doubled its cost.

Offshore power lines are much easier to permit, and allow to connect new parts of the grid together (bringing Icleandic geothermal or Norvegian hydro into the European mix, for instance), so they have a lot of value - but at the grid level, not on an individual project level. So the "supergrid" will not help offshore wind projects get built, but it will help improve the overall reliability of the power grid and facilitate the integration at a lower cost of various power sources in different places, including of course offshore wind.


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HVDC/Supergrid is clearly important in providing energy flexibility in Europe and I think there is a European political advantage in such energy interconnection. It will 'bind' European nations together in other ways too.

But at the same time, the real gains in energy efficiency will come from national Smart Grids, which will have a major impact on domestic energy use. I recall a chart you posted many months ago showing that domestic demand was by far the largest component of total electricity use. Yet domestic demand is the worst informed and the least 'regulated' (except by price).

As Migu pointed out to me - if 2 million families in Sweden in Finland simultaneously switch on their Plasma TVs to watch an ice-hockey game, it takes the entire output of one nuclear reactor.

There should be greater regulation of new house and apartment building, to control the energy efficiency of the house. As it is today, a developer has no regulated responsibility for the future energy costs of the houses they sell, and certainly no responsibility to inform buyers so that they can compare life cycle costs (if the concept of LCC is understood at all, domestically).

2 way communication between energy vendor systems and users is the essence of Smart Grids (as it is with Super Grids).

We have to forget the 'always-on, use as much as you can afford' attitude to electricity.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:12:25 AM EST
Sven Triloqvist:
As Migu pointed out to me - if 2 million families in Sweden in Finland simultaneously switch on their Plasma TVs to watch an ice-hockey game, it takes the entire output of one nuclear reactor.
What?

You pointed it out, I just did the math.

Economics is politics by other means

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:15:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]

You pointed it out, I just did the math.

Different people have different views on which bit is the hardest...

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:21:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's complicated...
So with load balancing, 12 million TVs consume the power output of a nuclear reactor.

However, most people watch TV at the same times, so ... 2 million TVs, simultaneously on, consume the power of your reactor. A big Sweden/Finland hockey match, for instance?



Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:23:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe outlawing ice hockey is the answer.
by Andhakari on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 01:24:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a well-known medical fact that removing symptoms does not cure the disease ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 01:31:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And this is the entire problem with VMware View, if you want to know the IT view of the world...
by asdf on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 04:41:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget, there are still lots to be saved in industry. Industry is about 50% of Swedish electricity consumption. I do not know if it is typical as Sweden has heavy industry - steel, paper - but also has a high reliance on electricity for domestic heating (mostly heat pumps now).

As I see it, the problem in residential savings is energy efficiency of the house. In industry it is rather that big machines are high status.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 03:19:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How do these costs scale with capacity and distance? Is it true that a 2 GW cable over the same distance would be twice as expensive and a 1G GW cable over twice the distance would be twice as expensive? Or are there economies or diseconomies of scale here?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:23:21 AM EST
cost is definitely proportional (or close to it) to distance, as both manufacturing and installation will bear proportionally increased costs for a longer cable (metals, factory days and day rate of vessels being the main inputs)

For capacity, I'd need to check, but I suspect that it's not too far from proportionality, at least on the manufacturing side - and given that it's largely a weight issue, on the installation side of it (you need bigger, more expensive, vessels)

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:50:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By my math, that means that each percentage point of gain over German greenfield solar will finance just a hair over 100 km of HVDC cable (assuming that German feed-in tariffs are remunerative for greenfield solar), even if you amortise the cable over ten years at 10 % and match your nameplate capacity W for W with cable capacity. If you finance at 7 % and amortise over 20 years instead you get over 350 km of cable per percentage point of capacity factor. And if you load balance at the source, so you economise on cable capacity, the numbers get even better.

By that math, cables from the Sahara to Germany (call it 3½ thousand km) would be justified at 7 %, 20 years loans if the capacity factor is more than ten percentage points better. Which it is. And any load-balancing you do on the Saharan side would be clear profit.

Is there a good reason this is not being done?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 11:26:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note to self: I should not be doing math when sleep deprived.

You get 10 resp. 18 km per percentage point of capacity factor if you load balance on the demand side, not 100 and 350. Call it three times that if you load balance on the supply side. Yeah, OK, I see why people aren't jumping up and down over that deal...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 11:37:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
Is there a good reason this is not being done?

many many reasons, none good...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 01:32:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]

TenneT May Partner With Investors to Finance Offshore Wind Power Cables

TenneT Holding BV, the Dutch power grid operator that bought German electricity lines from E.ON AG last year, may seek investors to partner with on cables to connect offshore wind farms to mainland Germany.

"If this massive speed of investment continues, then there's no reason why we shouldn't be looking for a co-ownership of certain projects," Mel Kroon, the company's chief executive officer, said today in an interview in Berlin. TenneT is "in discussions with several parties to discover if the rate return on risk is adequate to have a tap to the financial markets, both for capital and for debt."

Germany plans to install offshore wind parks with capacity equivalent to the country's 17 nuclear reactors in the next two decades to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

 (...)

Dutch state-owned TenneT will invest about 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in Germany in the 10 years through 2020 and 4 billion euros in the Netherlands. "The main drain of money is only happening in the last two years because then you're actually building and buying stuff," he said.



Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 09:25:36 AM EST
Offshore power lines are much easier to permit...

Why?

by Jace on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 11:07:03 AM EST
They don't obstruct the view from people's backyards.

Also, you'd be surprised at the number of crazy people who swear up one side and down the other that high voltage power lines cause everything from sleep disorders to cancer.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 11:24:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I kind of figured as much. Interestingly, with EMF it probably should be the other way around since there are a number of marine animals that use electric fields to survive. But according to this 2009 report, the impacts of underwater cables are still unknown:

Therefore at this point it is known that the sub-sea cable emissions can be detected by the sensory organs of several marine organisms although very little can be predicted about what kind of interaction this may trigger. It is very hard, with current data, to estimate if there can be a species or an ecological impact from EMF.

by Jace on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 01:00:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
These are DC lines, so the EMF consideration is a lot less than with AC.
by asdf on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 04:50:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just read Redmond O'Hanlon's book "Trawler". A good read and, yes, it is far from an in depth look at deep sea fishes but one point of emphasis that seems hard to dispute is that we still know very little about this environment and what lives in it. This paper only reinforces that.

While you're right about DC and EMF, there have been no actual site studies that I know that look at impacts of electrical fields on these environments.

by Jace on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 06:38:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We are talking sea depths of 20-40m only, and some of the best known seas in the world. Cables are buried deep to avoid being torn by anchors, or to cross shipping lanes or pipelines....

So far, the biggest environmental worry is the noise when hammering steel foundations into the sea bed (think giant hammer meets gain nail...)

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 02:46:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Clearly I should stick to things I know something about...
by Jace on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 09:58:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The reason people assumed that high rates of miscarriages, cancers etc had nothing to do with HT lines was that there wasn't any known vector that could be responsible. So the people must be crazy, right? (the pigs must be crazy too. You can't have a pig farm under HT lines, they don't breed right.)

But it turns out that HT lines precipitate pollutants out of the atmosphere. Dioxins and all sorts of nasty stuff. So the causality is real.

[reference needed]

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 09:54:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
B. Blake Levitt and Chellis Glendinning: The Problems with Smart Grids

On the surface, Smart Grids sound  `green' - with promises of saving energy, creating new power-line corridors run on wind and solar, way-stations to power-up electric vehicles, energy-efficient upgrades to an aging power infrastructure, and real-time customer knowledge of electricity use.

And there's the enticing communications factor: a nationwide high-speed broadband information technology barreling down high-tension electric corridors called Broadband-Over-Power-Lines (BPL). What could be more perfect for communicating facts about the planet, funding enviro-candidates, pushing legislation, and organizing Earth Days?

But few who actually study how these new systems function want anything to do with them. Other than those who stand to make enormous profits and the physicists or engineers who dream up such stuff, Smart Grids are giving knowledgeable people the willies.

hmmm...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 10:10:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's being taken rather seriously in Finland. Smart Grids is one research area at CLEEN.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 10:27:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, I'd like to see a reference for that. If HV lines can draw pollutants out of the atmosphere, then there's a couple of neat applications for the effect...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 10:43:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One observable effect of HV installation is that the trees near substations are charred on the near side of the substation.

Economics is politics by other means
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 11:23:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
then you must be a Crazy Person.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 12:28:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Transformer stations throw some heavy magnetic fields around, so it's not completely implausible that they could mess up organisms in various creative ways.

But the lines themselves? The whole point of HV lines is that you want to conserve energy by not throwing unnecessary E/M fields around.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 10:18:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
a couple of years ago. Interesting the way this stuff disappears. Here is a position paper that says that while such an effect (in fact, ionization of particulate matter by HT lines that would increase its uptake by people and animals) could theoretically exist, it sorta kinda couldn't actually happen in real conditions. I sorta kinda believe them. (I wonder what it is they're denying, since there seems to be nothing on the internet arguing the other side?). A propos of nothing : this position paper comes from a lines company.

Here's study (in French) saying they can't put their finger on it. Epidemiological studies show higher rates of child leukemia, depression, cancers, Alzheimer.

Of course, all of this is imaginary because nobody has demonstrated a mechanism. (or rather, I can't find the mechanism I read about)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 12:38:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Inasmuch as the hypothesis is that the E/M fields from the power lines themselves cause various ailments... well, go out near a power line with a compass. If you get no noticeable effect on your compass, it is safe to say that the E/M field from the line is well below background (and no, the sort of E/M field you get from a DC or 50 Hz line is not substantially different from the Earth's magnetic field).

If the hypothesis is that electrical discharges ionise pollutants already present in the air, then you have something that at least isn't prima facie nonsense. (But where are those discharges coming from? Failure of the isolation? That would be a far more serious problem than any amount of particulate matter ionised in the process.)

The problem with citing individual studies is that there have been well over a hundred studies on HV lines over the years - so purely on the basis of a 5 % significance threshold, it should be possible to find a handful of independent studies confirming an effect. What we'd really need is a meta-study. Unfortunately, the places I usually go for a summary of the epidemiological literature turned up dry (Orac has nothing and Quackwatch debunks the EMF nonsense but does not consider aerosol generation from sparks).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 10:37:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
from the Earth's magnetic field, which, among other things, does not oscillate at 50 to 60 times per second.  

The major, major scientific fallacy here is to extrapolate from a theory that is inherently unable to model a situation (electromagnetic theory has no way to imagine biological effects of EM radiation) to conclude that no effects can exist, and then to use that theoretical conclusion to discredit anecdotal reports of real observation--on the basis of their being anecdotal despite that being the only kind of report you can ever have at the outset of a new scientific investigation.  

If I were being uncharitable, I would not call such science merely bad, but corrupt.  

On the phenomenon itself, I do not weigh in.  Maybe will see--if anyone ever studies it.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 11:42:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
50 Hz is ultra-long-wave radio. You don't get resonance with any molecular bonds for another nine orders of magnitude or thereabouts. You don't get ionisation for another fourteen or fifteen orders of magnitude. It's not quite as implausible on the basis of elementary physics as homeopathy, but it's certainly in the same ballpark.

And it has been studied. Extensively. And while I'm not current on the literature, the fact that proponents of the hypothesis cite only individual studies as opposed to meta-studies (and the fact that it is prima facie implausible as a matter of basic physics) is not encouraging.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Apr 15th, 2011 at 01:24:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only a strong supposition based on epidemiological and anecdotal elements.

When I see stuff like : there's no evidence of harmful effects to animals, as long as you keep feeding troughs and all other metallic elements grounded... yeah well... I would prefer to see evidence of thriving animal breeding installations under power lines, because all I know about is counter-examples.

Unfortunately, the places I usually go for a summary of the epidemiological literature turned up dry

That's interesting. So little study of something that is so important economically to such powerful actors as (generally) national-monopoly lines companies... Move along, there's nothing to see here...

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Fri Apr 15th, 2011 at 04:21:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They came up dry on the particulate matter hypothesis, not on epidemiological studies of power lines, which, according to Quackwatch, show no effect.

I would prefer to see evidence of thriving animal breeding installations under power lines, because all I know about is counter-examples.

Anecdotes are all well and fine if you have some sort of plausible hypothesis worth testing. But if your hypothesis is that the electrical field from a power line has biological effects... well, let's take a 1 GW, 10 kV power line. That gives you a current of 100 A, which translates to a magnetic field of 10 microTesla at three meter, or 1 microTesla at 30 meter. That's between a half and one and a half orders of magnitude less than the Earth's magnetic field, and between one and two orders of magnitude below the German continuous exposure limit (yes, the Germans have a limit for magnetic field exposure). And, as noted upthread, 50 Hz doesn't resonate with any molecular or inter-molecular bonds.

Oh, and 1 GW lines are DC lines, which means the fields don't oscillate at 50 Hz. AC lines are at least an order of magnitude smaller.

So if I had a million € for an epidemiological study, an application to study the health effects of E/M fields from high-voltage lines would pass the payline unless it was a really thin field.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Apr 15th, 2011 at 01:47:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw something like that years ago too. I don't know how reliable it was, but I (unlike the authors) drew the conclusion that the problem was things like cars that put the pollutants in the atmosphere in the first place.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Apr 15th, 2011 at 02:28:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The need for new on-shore grid construction is now a top issue in the post-nuclear-closures debate in Germany, with strange alignments. While representatives of the governing parties seem to think that Greens can be split over the issue, some Greens made the argument that what's needed for wind is not really highest-capacity high-voltage cables but more medium-capacity cables, which can be laid underground. I'm not sure that that's enough (we will need balancing on an Europe-wide scale, and high-capacity cables are more efficient), but there was Green capaigning for such grid development long before Fukushima.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Apr 13th, 2011 at 06:04:02 PM EST
If your wind is fairly distributed, then consumption tends to be local, and you just need a distribution network, no need to reinforce the transport network.

If you've got 1000 5MW windmills way out in the desert (or North Sea), you need a big thick transport network like you do for a nuclear power station.

Why this should lead to splits among Greens, when it's an engineering issue, I have no idea.

If it's a matter of industrial & tariff policy favouring concentrated or distributed wind, then transport is only one factor.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 09:59:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If your wind is fairly distributed, then consumption tends to be local

It's local during normal wind, but not on the rare occasions when one region has practically no wind and another has strong wind. Then it would be best if you can transport multiple gigawatts across distances of thousands of kilometres.

If you've got 1000 5MW windmills way out in the desert (or North Sea), you need a big thick transport network like you do for a nuclear power station.

Actually, no. For that purpose alone, you only need it from the wind farm to inhabited land, where it can be distributed.

Why this should lead to splits among Greens, when it's an engineering issue

Because local opposition to high-voltage power line projects and Greens aren't disjunct groups. No, it's not just an engineering issue.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 10:26:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome wrote in the diary:
The hype, mainly, is about a grid that would connect offshore wind farms to one another in the North Sea in a sort of "offshore superhighway" - that makes no sense.

Does it make sense to have subsea interconnectors running via an offshore wind farm? Take the Round 3 Dogger Bank proposal, as an extreme case, where the proposal is to build 9GWp of wind.

Would it make sense to run a Norway-Britain connector through that, to allow some of its energy to be exported easily to Scandinavia? It's practically on the way anyway, so maybe not much extra cable cost. Is the tricky bit here the building of a multi-nodal HVDC network, or the economics, or something else?

by LondonAnalytics (Andrew Smith) on Thu Apr 14th, 2011 at 08:45:22 AM EST
well, the only thing that you do when you make the interconnector go via an offshore wind farm is that you give that wind farm specific arbitrage power between the two markets on the other ends of the connection. This will have some value to the wind farm (but that may be hard to monetise: if your revenues mainly depend on a regulated price, you may not be able to make much of the market arbitrage if it comes at the expense of the regulated revenue).

Better to have the market balancing between the two electric areas doe by the grid operator on a system-wide scale rather than having a smaller operator (and yes even Dogger Bank will be relatively small compared to the full grid on the other side)  in the middle with its own priorities.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 16th, 2011 at 05:19:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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