With the ongoing depletion of the world's non-renewable energy resources, many countries are feeling the pressure from environmentalists and concerned citizens alike to pursue other methods for providing energy to the general population. And many governments have responded with excellent renewable energy alternatives, from solar power to wind power to water power and more, depending on the geographical advantages of a region.
The trouble is, not every country has a readily available source of wind, water or sun that can be converted to electricity. Fast Fact: Transmitting electricity (or any energy for that matter) over long distances can result in a significant loss of energy due to heat, so that the energy received at the destination is only a fraction of that originally transmitted.Furthermore, the sun and the wind can't always be called upon when needed — what happens at night, during cloudy days, or when the wind has died down? Energy reservoirs can be built up during times of plenty, but extended times without recharging these supplies can definitely cause energy shortages, and may lead back to a reliance on non-renewable resources.
To combat these potential problems, a plan is underway in Europe to create the ultimate energy network, linking the sunshine of northern Africa, the geothermal energy of underground volcanic activity in Iceland, and the Scandinavian winds in north Europe. The plan would create a "super-grid" of cables connecting these resources (and more!) to the nations of Europe, providing them with all their energy needs. These cables, known as high-voltage direct-current (HDVC) cables, are designed to prevent loss of energy during the many hundreds of kilometres of travel required to take the produced energy to where it may be needed. In addition, since the network relies on multiple renewable energy sources, during times of scarcity in one aspect (for example, in the absence of any wind in northern Europe), energy continues to be collected and stored in the reservoirs through any available resources. This could reduce or even obliterate the demand on the burning of fossil fuels and nuclear power and sources of energy for the ever-expanding human population. For example, it is estimated that capturing a mere 0.3% of the sunlight in the Sahara desert could provide enough energy for all of Europe. Fast Fact: The energy lost as heat is proportional to the current of the transmitted electricity (the number of charged particles passing a given point in one second).
Naturally, linking the wind and hydroelectric power in Scandinavia with geothermal power in Iceland reduces the burden on harvesting solar power, and combats any intermittency in the provisions from the primary source by building up stores in a common energy reservoir.
While the investment costs of such an extensive project would be extremely large, at an estimated cost of roughly 45 billion Euros (~75 billion dollars in Canadian funds), the ability to convert Europe to a continent no longer dependent on non-renewable energy resources would be a tremendous step towards a green planet. And as far-fetched as this idea for a super-grid may sound, there are already example of energy symbiosis between European countries on small scales. For example, Denmark trades wind power with Norway for its hydroelectricity resources so that each country has a consistent energy supply, and Britain is already tapped into the nuclear power resources of France. Fast Fact: Maintaining a higher potential difference (voltage) between the beginning and end of any two points in the cable allows the electricity to pass with a smaller current, reducing the energy loss during transmission, making it ideal for transmission over long distances
Furthermore, the plan has caught the attention of other world leaders, including United States president-elect Barack Obama, who are considering the idea of such a network in their own countries as well. It is very possible that with Europe's leadership, we could be witnessing a significant shift toward green energy sources as we move forward.
For more information
...on the proposed European "super-grid"
...on High-Voltage Direct-Current (HVDC) Cables
Andrew is a native of Vancouver, with a B.Sc. in pharmacology from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and is currently doing his Ph.D in cardiovascular physiology at UBC. He is an avid photographer and hiker, having hiked the 77 km West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island twice, among other conquests. In addition, he is an frequent player of video games, owning several different systems. His favorite games, while numbering too many to mention, include God of War, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario Galaxy.