Remote Renewable Energy Resources made Possible
by International Electrical Interconnections
A Priority for All Continents
Power Generation Technology -
- T. J. Hammons, IEEE Chairman International Practices
for Energy Development and Power Generation, Glasgow
Univ., Scotland, UK
- J. A. Falcon, President, American Society of
Mechanical Engineers, New York, NY, USA
- P. Meisen, Executive Director, Global Energy
Network Institute, San Diego, CA, USA.
Over the past few decades, international electrical
interconnections have become increasing widespread
as technology has improved and the benefits of integrated
systems are realized. System interconnection facilitate
reduced requirements for spinning reserve, improved
efficiency, load leveling between time zones and seasonal
variations, less fossil fuel emissions and the harnessing
of remote renewable energy sources.
Expanding power grids have proven to be both economically
and environmentally desirable. The utilization of
the time zone and seasonal diversity that may exist
between adjacent power systems can postpone or eliminate
the necessity for commissioning new generating plants.
System interconnections have improved the efficiency
of the generation mix, reliability with respect to
outages, and power system stability, frequency and
voltage. Yet approximately 80% of all generation in
the world is based on non-renewable fuels, whose emissions
harm the environment, creating greenhouse gases, acid
rain and toxic waste.
With numerous sites around the world that boast of
energy sources like hydro, tidal, solar, wind and
geothermal, it is reasonable to project the benefits
for the future if these renewable energy resource
sites were connected into existing grids. In addition,
the interconnection of existing electrical systems
across national borders provides the benefits of a
greatly expanded interconnected network.
Long Distance Transmission
Studies performed by CIGRE (International Conference
on Large High Voltage Electric Systems) 
indicates that long-distance transmission can be made
reliable and economically successful for distances
of up to about 6500 kilometers with HVDC (High Voltage
Direct Current) and 4800 kilometers with HVAC (High
Voltage Alternating Current). This would permit inter-regional
and even intercontinental power delivery from remote
sites where large renewable energy sources may be
found. An inventory of some of the best renewable
resources shows them to be located throughout much
of the developing world -- Latin America, Africa and
Asia, as well as the northern latitudes of Canada,
Alaska and Russia. Just as power is presently being
purchased and sold every day to even out demand and
alleviate power shortages among neighboring systems,
so exports of excess power from developing nations
can provide less expensive electricity for the industrialized
countries, and financial resources for third-world
Billions of dollars could be saved by sharing this
untapped potential, and to a large extent, much future
demand could be satisfied by wheeling rather than
by building new plants. Savings from wheeled power
are well established, and are reflected in reduced
customer costs for the buyer and reduced unit costs
for the seller. Since many countries are still unwilling
to rely on too large a percentage of imported power
for national security reasons, imported power usually
displaces only the most expensive peaking generation
units. Today, political enemies of old are quickly
becoming trading partners. Just two months after the
Berlin Wall was torn down, East and West Germany initiated
the process of grid interconnection. Reported within
days of the Israeli/PLO peace accords was the proposal
to link the Israeli and Arab networks for mutual economic
The imported power need only be cheaper than the
buyer's marginal cost for peaking power to create
an economic win-win situation.
Total dependence of energy supply on a neighboring
nation is unrealistic, yet emergency and reserve margin
sharing quickly turns into economy energy exchanges
as trust builds between parties. In any case, power
transmission per circuit is usually limited to the
amount of power the receiving system can afford to
lose so to not cause instability in their system.
An additional challenge for utilities today with
regard to power transmission are Electro-Magnetic
Fields (EMFs). It has become almost impossible to
site transmission in some areas due to this cancer
scare among the general public. Millions of dollars
are presently spent researching the issue, with credible
people coming down on each side. Epidemiologists state
a perceived increase in childhood leukemia from 1
case in 10,000 to 2 cases in 10,000. Extensive studies
on lineman and telephone workers have shown no increase
in risk. The authors view the EMF issue as a debate
of the privileged in the developed world. Having the
highest standard of living in the world, much of it
supported via electricity, we live to an average age
of 70 - 80 years old. For people in the first world,
an EMF policy of "prudent avoidance" is
a sound one for the time being. In most developing
countries, having limited electricity, their living
standard is dismal and supports an average life expectancy
of 50 - 60 years. Their desire is for more electricity
to improve their quality of life, and EMF is not an
Improved Living Standards
From a sociological point of view, the world's environment
is rapidly moving out of balance in respect of its
ability to support an exploding population. Most projections
have world population increasing from 5.3 billion
in 1990 to about 8 billion in 2020 ,
with almost all the growth coming from the developing
countries. Predictions vary to the year 2050, but
most population experts project about 10 billion people
by mid-century. While population control could relieve
many of the environmental problems facing the world,
it is unreasonable to expect governmental decrees
to accomplish such a goal. Population control will
occur through two factors. Firstly, people around
the world must move towards a rational approach to
family planning. Secondly, energy in sufficient quantities
must be available for basic infrastructure needs such
as development of clean water resources, sanitation
facilities, and refrigeration of food and medicine.
Projected world population growth is illustrated in
In third-world countries, large families are deemed
necessary to ensure that some of the survivors will
be around to help with the work of sustaining the
family, and to take care of parents when they are
old. These "insurance births" are required
because infant mortality is high as a result of inadequate
health care, non-potable water and malnutrition. Thus,
not only are infants at risk, but children as a group.
When food and health-care systems can be sustained,
fewer children are necessary for each family to function
as working and contributing members of the community,
and birth rates fall along with infant mortality .
In all social systems of the developed world, energy
in the form of electricity provides for the efficient
utilization of resources to supply food, shelter,
health care, sewage disposal, transportation, communication
and education. Clearly, power via transmission lines
is a primary requirement of modern society, yet people
in developing nations are more concerned with survival
than with environmental protection.
World Energy Demand
The 1992 World Energy Conference has provided a comprehensive
long-term global and regional energy perspective to
the year 2020 . A doubling
of energy demand is projected, again mostly from the
exploding population growth and the subsequent energy
needs of the developing world. Three global energy
cases representing different assumptions in terms
of economic development, energy efficiencies, and
environmental impact have been considered.
- The Reference (REF) Case, in essence the same
developed by the World Energy Conference for the
Montreal (1989) Congress, which forecasts that future
energy demand will rise from 8.7 Gigotonnes of oil
equivalent (Gtoe) in 1990 to 13.3 Gtoe in 2020,
the other two cases are variants included to illustrate
sensitivities to changes in the basic assumptions.
- The Enhanced Economic Development (EED) Case,
which assumes a somewhat higher economic growth
in developing countries (4% GNP growth over 3%),
and suggests that global energy demand will rise
to 17.2 Gtoe.
- The Ecologically Driven (ED) Case, which assumes
the same economic growth as for the REF Case but
with a sharper improvement in energy efficiency,
shows that energy demand will rise to only 11.2
Gtoe by the year 2020.
Global energy mix in the year 2020 for these three
assumptions is depicted in Table 1 and in Figure 2.
It is seen that the WEC estimates commercial fossil
fuels will continue to dominate the energy mix to
the year 2020, and are likely to continue to do so
far into the next century. From a total fossil fuel
ratio (that is, the ratio between commercial fossil
fuel consumption and total fuel use) at 78% in 1990,
it becomes 73% in the REF Case, 75% in the EED Case,
and 63% in the ED Case in the year 2020.
New renewable energy sources will be seen to play
an increasing role in the energy mix as we move into
the next century. They should increase by 2.5 to 7.5
times current production, while hydro generation is
expected to double by the year 2020. The contribution
from nuclear power is also expected to double, but
this will require resolution of some of the issues
of public concern, such as technical safety in operation,
management skills, effective international inspection,
and safe long-term disposal of radioactive waste.
Cost effective development and implementation of new
renewable energy resources over the coming decades
will be necessary to maximize the contribution they
can make to the diversification of energy sources
and the long term security of supply. Up until today,
their lack of commercial viability limited large scale
implementation of new renewables in the world energy
system because of heavy weighting of initial capital
CO2 Emissions and Environment
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
working for the 1992 Earth Summit projected a doubling
of CO2 emissions over the period to 2020 .
Although the consequences of these emissions are still
in dispute, it does appear that a prime solution to
the global problem is to effect a transition by tapping
many of the potential renewable resources and transmitting
the energy electrically to areas of high demand by
high voltage transmission. Industrial CO2 emissions
predicted by the IPCC on Climate Change are illustrated
in Figure 3. A 60% reduction in CO2 from 1990 levels
is recommended to stabilize CO2 concentrations in
the atmosphere in respect of climate change.
Many in the environmental community are promoting
demand side management as one answer to our environmental
problems. While demand side efficiency is important
for advanced economies, this will not solve the energy
needs of the growing economies in the developing world.
Nuclear advocates rightfully state that fission produces
no CO2 pollution, and is therefore an good solution
to the greenhouse problem. Yet, nuclear power is politically
impossible to build in many countries around the world,
and except for Japan and France, has failed economically
when compared to other generation options. Another
Chernobyl-style accident could cause a political shift
and curtail nuclear development even further.
Engineers have the means and the mandate to generate
benefits beyond system reliability and efficiency,
which have been hallmarks of the profession. In 1971,
The United Nations Natural Resources Committee proposed
the interconnection of central Africa to Europe and
Latin America to North America as a means of displacing
polluting generation in the North with renewable energy
resources from the South .
At that time the technology of long-distance high-voltage
transmission was in its infancy. Today this technology
is available and proven.
Twenty years ago, architect and inventor Dr. R. Buckminster
Fuller proposed interconnecting regional power systems
into a single, continuous worldwide electric energy
grid as the number one solution to solve many of the
world's most pressing problems. While this vision
is still years away, Fuller foresaw power grids as
a means of improving the standard of living for the
impoverished, preserving the environment and enhancing
international trade and cooperation.
The concept of intercontinental connections was addressed
in detail at meetings of the IEEE/PES (Institute of
Electrical and Electronic Engineers - Power Engineering
Society) (January 1992, New York, NY ,
and February 1993, Columbus, OH )
where specialists from utilities, the United Nations,
and the World Bank discussed the potential of tapping
remote renewables using long-distance, high-voltage
Panelists, who were engineers from the United States,
Canada, Egypt, Brazil, India, Italy, the United Kingdom
and Saudi Arabia, were experts in the field of system
planning, design, construction and operation of high-voltage
systems in all parts of the world. The consensus was
that inter-regional interconnections were feasible
and desirable today. It was stated that there had
never been a known economic failure (save disruption
through war), and every interconnection had proved
to be of greater economic benefit than was the justification
for its construction in the first place .
In many cases these regional links would be inter-continental
ties. Several technically feasible concepts were presented
- for example, a connection between the two American
continents to capitalize on the great hydro resources
of South America. Power sold to the North would bring
economic benefits to Latin America. While cheaper
electricity would aid the economies in North America,
reimbursement to Latin America could be used for developmental
needs as well as for debt repayment.
Additional ties under feasibility study include interties
between Central Africa and Egypt, with connections
to the Middle East countries [7,8],
and from Iceland to the UK .
A major link between Africa and Europe has its basis
in the vast hydro energy available from the Zaire
River. The Grand Inga power station on the Zaire River
represents a typical example of power supply that
can be exported using international transmission lines.
The characteristics of this potential development
- 30,000MW of installed capacity
- 240 billion KWh annual energy production
- Less than $1,000 per KW installed cost
- Low environmental impact.
In 1984, Dr Luigi Paris, Energy and Transmission
consultant of Rome, Italy and Nelson de Franco of
the World Bank's Energy Infrastructure Department,
have suggested Inga electricity could be delivered
to Europe at a price competitive with fossil generation
it would supplement or replace .
Recently, Yehia Abu-Alam of the Science, Technology,
Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Division
of the United Nations further calculated that the
energy cost of Inga hydropower to Europe would be
25% cheaper than domestic European nuclear power,
and half the cost of European coal generation .
See Table 2 and Figure 4.
Transnational connections from Zaire have several
potential land corridors. Transmission lines could
traverse African Countries in the western, central
and eastern portions of that continent, terminating
in Spain, Italy, Greece or Turkey. Because of the
long distance, HVDC would be mandatory for transmission,
requiring six to ten bipolar lines. These lines, traversing
desert and sea, would require careful siting to minimize
exposure to harsh environments where, for example,
tower footings would be unstable in the sand, and
where excessive depth of the Mediterranean Sea would
limit installation of the cables. Selecting an operating
voltage of +600 kV, tower line space could
be minimized for the overhead portion and paper-insulated
submarine cable could be used for the underwater installation.
Underwater cabling is commonplace, with DC links
between England and France, and across the Cook Strait
in New Zealand for just two examples. The plan for
a submarine cable between Spain and Morocco at the
Strait of Gibraltar is being studied. The whole African
system is based on proven technology and appears feasible
with low risk. The proposed Zaire/Europe development
is illustrated in Figure 5.
Possibilities of a submarine power link between Iceland
and the UK have been investigated for several years
. The National Power Company
of Iceland, Landsvirkjun, which could provide un-utilized
surplus of potential hydro-power amounting to 25,000
-30,000 GWh/year and geothermal power useful for electricity
generation of at least 20,000 GWh/year, have recently
stepped up its investigation of the link. Conclusions
were released early 1993 in the form of a pre-feasibility
study on the proposed development. The study was conducted
with the assistance of Pirelli Cables (Italy and UK),
Vattenfall Engineering (Sweden) and local consultants.
Results affirm the technical viability of the link.
Particulars of the proposed 2400 MW development, including
its economic prospects, are summarized in Table 3.
Pirelli's review includes technical particulars of
a "state of the art" design as well as a
"near future" design (3-5 years). The cost
of power delivered by the link is based on an economic
analysis of suitable generation from contemplated
East Iceland hydro electric plants.
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and
Alaskan power system planners recently met to discuss
an East/West intertie between Alaska and Siberia .
While this interconnection may be years away, enormous
hydro and tidal potential exists in these northern
latitudes. However, the load is thousands of kilometers
away - in Asia and the United States. In this connection,
a promising possibility would be to install an 8000
kilometer HVDC line from the US/Canadian grid, across
Alaska, the Bering Strait and Siberia and into the
eastern Russian grid. It is only a short step from
that scenario to one that includes an interconnection
between Russia and its Asian neighbors: Japan, North
and South Korea and China. See Figure 6.
With long distance HVDC transmission, one of the
world's premier tidal sites could be developed at
Penzhinskaya in Russia's Okhotsk Sea. This power could
be fed into this multi-terminal system to Asian markets,
or used for hydrogen production and shipped to these
same customers. Potential tidal power sites considered
for development worldwide are summarized in Table
4. See references [11,12]
for Tidal Power Generation prospects.
The six nation Gulf Cooperation Council (Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates,
and Oman) have commissioned a HVAC and HVDC system
along the Persian Gulf .
All states operate at 50Hz except Saudi-Arabia which
operates at 60Hz. AC/DC/AC couplers link Saudi Arabia
to neighboring systems.
Clearly, the most critical world region for future
energy demand will be India, China and Southeast Asia.
More than half the world's population lives in this
region, and energy demand is projected to surpass
that of the first world by the turn of the century
. The enormous hydro,
solar, and tidal resources of the region offer great
opportunity for long term sustainable development.
In each of these cases, the state of the art in network
integration transcends national boundaries. The hurdles
to tapping these immense renewable reserves are political
in nature, not technical.
East-West European Interconnections
With the end of the Cold War, the Commonwealth of
Independent States and East European engineers are
working to upgrade and strengthen the former Comecon
Electricity Grid system [15,16].
Synchronous coupling of the power grids on either
side of the former Iron Curtain makes economic sense
as reported by a meeting sponsored by UNESCO and the
International Union of Producers and Distributors
of Electrical Energy (UNIPEDE). At a few points along
the former Iron Curtain, AC/DC/AC interconnections
with or without DC lines already interconnect the
two systems asynchronously at first.
The DC technique can be used in two ways: without
or with DC lines. The first is the way it is done
today, using back-to-back stations along the old border
between East and West Europe. These stations would
be strung along the border between the synchronized
systems. The other approach is to build several DC
lines, penetrating some distance into both synchronized
systems to form so called "staples". The
conversion stations are then at either end of the
line and also, if necessary, at intermediate points
forming a multi-terminal configuration.
An advantage of back-to-back converter stations is
their total control over electric power flowing through
the two electric systems they join, while in the event
of serious incident, they prevent cascading collapse.
Stapled systems using DC lines gives good control
of power flow between the systems. DC lines are themselves
cheaper than AC lines because their insulation voltage
is reduced by a factor of root two. DC lines allow
for simple separation in the event of faults at either
end of the system. Since DC interconnections decouple
the requirement of common frequency, no stability
problems are anticipated.
In general, existing AC transmission lines are preferred
for the interconnections, as this method allows a
better coordination between systems on both sides
of the border at optimized cost and in a far more
flexible manner than DC systems would allow. International
collaboration on this technical issue is essential
if fully synchronized interconnections are to go ahead.
Within an interconnected electricity system, frequency
must be cooperatively managed and collectively stabilized
among all members of the power pool.
Synchronization may have to follow three stages.
First would come the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland
and Hungary; next, countries like Bulgaria, Romania,
and Turkey. Finally, extensions would be possible
into other countries. Additionally, system planners
in Europe have designs to interconnect with North
Africa via underwater cable to Gibraltar, Italy
and through the Middle East. UNIPEDE reports that
large transfers of energy across Europe will be possible
in the long term.
Another opportunity lies with the regional concern
over Chernobyl style nuclear plants in Eastern Europe
. Decommissioning of
such plants is difficult at this time because the
power is needed in Eastern Europe. Western Europe
is investing heavily in safeguarding against further
nuclear accidents. Imported power may be an alternative.
Benefits and Opportunities
Quality of life in the developed world is directly
related to and a function of the electrical infrastructure.
In a similar manner, the striving for improved living
standards in the developing nations is a direct function
of the supply of their electricity requirements.
As an example, the social benefits of the Grand Inga
project would be significant for developing countries
in Africa, since the energy produced comes from a
renewable source, and income from energy sales would
provide needed revenue for governmental programs intended
to alleviate poverty. The export of a renewable resource
does not reduce the potential richness of the producing
country, and therefore does not compromise its future
development. The scheme provides impetus for continued
development, and enhances the ability to repay existing
An examination of just a few areas in the world where
renewable energy sources exist provides some idea
of the potential of the grand plan for intercontinental
exchange of energy:
- Large untapped hydro sites can be found in Latin
America, Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Southeast Asia,
- Tidal sites are found in Argentina, Canada, Siberia,
China, Australia, and India.
- Solar potential rings the earth in Mexico, the
United States, Africa, the Middle East, Russia,
India, China and Australia.
- Geothermal potential exists around the Pacific
Ocean's "ring of fire", in the rift valley
of Africa, Australia and an Iceland.
- Wind potential exists on all continents, with
geography providing some ideal sites in mountains
and along coastlines.
The potential capacity of these resources is massive.
To state but a few examples -- Asea Brown Boveri reports
that the world presently uses 14% of the exploitable
hydro, and that a doubling would reduce CO2 emission
on the planet by one-third. 
Variable speed wind turbines have reduced costs to
about $.05/KWh, and the Union of Concerned Scientists
projects that much of the U.S. Midwest States new
capacity demand of 2005 can be wind generated with
no loss of reliability or increase in cost. 
The tidal power of the Kimberly region in northwest
Australia has the potential of eight times the present
energy demand of the entire continent .
Given the remote nature of this and other similar
sites, in addition to electrical generation, hydrogen
production would also be a logical development scheme
for use in the transportation sector. This would again
provide a fuel that is essentially combustion-clean,
and extend the life of petroleum reserves on the planet.
Today, over 400MW of solar thermal power provides
utility-scale electricity to Southern California at
competitive peak rates, $.08 - $.12/KWh. For the next
century, Sanyo Electric of Japan has proposed a grid-connected,
worldwide photovoltaic energy system, using solar
cells with 10% conversion efficiency and an area of
800km x 800km (about 4% of the world's deserts). Sanyo's
Kuwano projects the scheme would generate the equivalent
of the world's petroleum use in 2000 (1.4 x 10,000,000,000
kiloliters per year -- 10 to power of 10). 
Clearly, renewable resources are abundant, yet site
specific, and often in remote locations across political
boundaries. At present, the only renewable resource
that adds a significant portion to the global generation
mix is hydro. Less than 100MW per year of new capacity
comes from the other renewables. The energy demands
of 250,000 new people per day cannot be met at this
rate. While many development experts emphasize small,
localized generation as the priority to meet the immediate
survival needs in rural developing countries, this
micro generation cannot meet the demands of 100 million
new people every year. A combination of both small
and large scale development of renewable energy resources
Using the business-as-usual scenarios of the World
Energy Conference portends a future of further environmental
pollution. With the costs of variable speed wind turbines
and solar thermal generation now becoming cost competitive
with base-load coal and gas-fired peaking rates, vast
renewable sites in remote locations can now be available
to meet this exploding demand with less impact on
the environment. As stated in the new volume, "Renewable
Energy: Sources for Fuels and Electricity", most
of the electricity produced from these sources would
be fed into large electrical grids and marketed by
electric utilities .
In contrast to the WEC scenarios, Johannsen, Kelly,
et al propose that at least 60% of the world's generation
could be met from renewable resources by 2025, and
that higher levels could be realized if nations should
desire greater CO2 reductions. Of importance is the
conclusion that the renewable energy development indicated
in their Renewables Intensive Global Energy Scenario
represents a tiny fraction of the technical potential
of renewable energy. See Figure 7.
Of concern for all is China's coal-fired development,
adding a new thermal power plant every month. Continuing
down this path will negate the efforts of the rest
of the world to reduce CO2 emissions to levels recommended
by the IPCC for the Earth Summit. Yet China is geographically
surrounded by renewable resource options: hydro in
the Himalayas and the Lena, Yenisey and Ob Rivers
of Siberia; the Tibetan plateau and Mongolian deserts
offer tremendous solar radiation; and several tidal
sites exist along the Yellow, East and South China
Seas No one can deny Asia's desire for improved living
standards, yet everyone on the planet is ultimately
affected by their energy decisions in the next few
The large number of locations where development is
possible shows the scope for world-wide cooperation
in a technology that can serve as a common point of
interest for all countries. As noted by Yuri Rudenko
and Victor Yershevich of the Russian Academy of Sciences,
the creation of a unified electrical power system
would not be an end in itself .
Rather, it was their view that a unified system would
be the natural result of systems that demonstrated
benefits in terms of economics, ecology and national
Possibly the most encouraging endorsement for the
linking of renewable resources is a result of the
Earth Summit in June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Noel
Brown, North American Director of the United Nations
Environmental Program, stated that tapping of remote
renewable resources is one of the most important projects
to further the cause of environmental protection and
Engineers have the responsibility of designing systems
for the long term sustainability of our planet. We
have seen the consequences of past errors, and that
of short term thinking. The question of how we can
provide sustainable development and environmental
protection for the long term must be high on the list
of critical issues of all nations.
(in order of appearance in paper)
Figure 1. Projected
Table 1. Global Fuel Use, Past and Future Energy
Mix (Gigatonnes of Oil Equivalent)
Figure 2. Alternative Energy Futures
Figure 3. Industrial CO2 Emissions
Table 2. Cumulative present worth of revenue requirements
in 2002 and levelized cost per megawatthour
Figure 4. Inga hydro generation project: Hydro
vs. European nuclear or coal
Figure 5. Line Routes to Europe from Grand Inga
(use Abu-Alam map from IEEE Review of July 1993)
Figure 6. Multi-terminal interconnection between
Russia and North America
Table 3. Proposed Iceland/ UK Cable Connection
Table 4. Tidal Power Sites Considered for Development
Figure 7. Renewables Intensive Global Energy Scenario
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