Power supergrid plan to protect Europe from Russian threat to choke off energy
Nov 13, 2008 - The Times
A supergrid of power supplies to protect Europe’s energy from the threat of a Russian stranglehold will be announced today.
The building blocks of the proposed supergrid would be new cables linking North Sea wind farms, and a network patching together the disparate electricity grids of the Baltic region and the countries bordering the Mediterranean, according to a blueprint drawn up by the European Commission and seen by The Times.
EU states will also be asked to pay for at least two ambitious gas pipelines to bring in supplies from Central Asia and Africa. The plans also call for a Community Gas Ring, or a network allowing EU countries to share supplies if Russia turns off the taps.
Analysts estimate the two projects will cost billions of pounds.
The EU Energy Security Plan notes that Europe imports 61 per cent of its gas, a figure projected to rise to 73 per cent by 2020. Russia sells about two-fifths of the total, including the entire supply of several countries.
The proposals come a day before an EU summit meeting with Russia in France, which is designed to reopen talks on a pact covering economic and energy links after the crisis in relations caused by the war in Georgia in the summer.
Europe must take “the first steps to break the cycle of increasing energy consumption, increasing imports, and increasing outflow of wealth created in the EU to pay energy producers”, according to the European Commission document. Without referring specifically to Russia, it adds: “Remaining reserves and spare production capacity are becoming increasingly concentrated in a few hands.
“With respect to the EU, this is of most concern with respect to gas, where a number of member states are overwhelmingly dependent on one single supplier. Political incidents in supplier or transit countries, accidents or natural disasters . . . remind the EU of the vulnerability of its immediate energy supply.”
Britain supports the first step of the supergrid scheme to connect all the wind farms in the North Sea, which will channel electricity into a central hub from the waters of several countries including the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and the UK.
Supporters argue that a shared system will make each country less reliant on local weather conditions for renewable energy in the drive to replace Russian hydrocarbons.
Nick Medic, of the British Wind Energy Association, said: “This follows an agreement between Norway and Holland to connect the two countries with an undersea cable. The logic is that hydropower [in Norway] can offset the variability of wind power [from Holland]. If the wind power goes up, you can switch off the hydro. It is something that Denmark and Norway have also done for years.
“The proposed North Sea grid means that if you have less wind in the British sector, you can access wind blowing off the German coast.” An EU-wide network will mean that wind power becomes even more reliable.
The Government supports the plans. “We have been calling for the EU to do more on energy security. The idea of a supergrid could support the Government’s aim of developing offshore wind power and other renewables and implementing more interconnection between European electricity markets,” a spokeswoman said.
Similar link-ups will be outlined today for the Baltic region and the Mediterranean, with the long-term goal of a single European grid.
The common EU gas ring will require construction of the southern corridor pipeline to bring gas supplies from Azerbaijan and a trans-Saharan pipe for gas from Nigeria. The EU faces tough competition, however, from Gazprom, the huge gas company in Russia, which is already negotiating to buy supplies from both countries for rival projects.
All of these measures will run alongside the EU goal of a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency by 2020, as well as a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions and 20 per cent of energy to come from renewable sources, the so-called 20-20-20 targets.
The European Commission will spell out the urgency of making progress with energy security, because of the dominance of Russia and because of the economic uncertainties surrounding imports. “This work appears as a key element of the EU response to the current financial crisis and thus should be accelerated,” the draft document states.