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Prospects to Trade Electric Power Across the Asia-Pacific Region

A variety of perspectives on the failure of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant as a result of a tidal wave, have been published over that past several months. Japan does generate nuclear electric power near the coast of the Sea of Japan where tidal waves are less likely to occur, indicating that the location of the Fukushima power station contributed to its failure. Public sentiment in Japan is no longer supportive of the construction of new nuclear power stations within their borders, leaving Japan with the option of importing some future electrical energy from neighboring nations. Japan does import oil and natural gas.

Previous research undertaken in Holland and in Iceland has indicated that a potentially viable undersea power cable could carry hydroelectric and geothermal electric power from Iceland to Germany. A recent proposal from Malaysia involves an undersea power cable carrying hydroelectric power from the province of Sarawak, to the Malaysian mainland. The nations of Israel, Cyprus and Greece recently discussed connecting their power grids by using a future undersea power cable placed at depths of 2000-metres (6000-feet) under the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Such cables already carry electric power between Greece and Italy as well as between Morocco and Spain.

These international precedents provide a basis for Japan to consider importing electric power from neighbor nations, using similar undersea power cables. Russia recently agreed to construct an undersea natural gas pipeline to Japan, to carry Russian natural gas. Canada has also expressed interest in selling natural gas to Japan that has the option of generating electric power from imported natural gas, and/or processing it into synthetic fuel oils for the transportation sector.

Russia has potential to generate hydroelectric power on at least two main rivers located northeast of the coastal city of Vladivostok. The cost difference between imported natural gas and imported electric power will contribute to Japan's decision in regard to importing energy. A combination of undersea and over land power cables could carry southeastern Russian hydroelectric power across to Sakhalin Island and then over to the Japanese province of Hokkaido. Japan already transmits electric power between their island provinces.

The relatively short distances of shallow ocean depth between western Japan and South Korea and across the Yellow Sea and East China Sea between China and South Korea enhance prospects to install undersea power cables. This region has a huge future market for electric power that enhances future prospects to install such cables to connect the power grids of several dynamic economies. The distance between western Japan and South Korea is much shorter that the distance between southern Greece and Israel. Both South Korea and China have recently made significant progress toward developing lower-costing nuclear-electric power.

China's nuclear industry is evaluating the option of applying mass-production technology to future nuclear development, potentially reducing the future capital cost of a nuclear power plant by up to 35%. The emergence of such technology enhances prospects for future nuclear-electric power companies located in either of China or South Korea, to offer cost-competitive electric power to Japan transmitted via undersea cable. There are several other parts of Asia where the future trade of electric power would likely become possible.

China and Taiwan engage in a considerable amount of trade valued at several $-billion per month. Future trade between China and Taiwan could include electrical power transmitted via undersea power cable. The growing population of the Philippines has increasing need for electric power and may be a potential future customer for additional cost-competitive electric power. A comparatively high oceanic ridge between Taiwan and Luzon province could carry a future undersea power cable, perhaps to allow China to export electric power to the Philippines, via Taiwan. The Philippines may also have the future option of importing hydroelectric power from Malaysia's Sarawak and Sabah provinces and also from Borneo, delivered over part of the distance by undersea power cable.

The Australian chapter of Desertec has formulated plans to generate future electric power from viable domestic renewable sources and export most of that power via undersea power cable across the shallow waters of Arafura Sea to the islands of eastern Indonesia. A succession of future undersea and overland power cables could carry the electric power to markets in Malaysia, Thailand and also to China. Given the recent decline in the cost of some forms of renewable power, there may be future scope for the direct cost of solar electric power from Australia and geothermal electric power from Indonesia to decline to the direct cost levels of nuclear and hydroelectric power.

Public opposition to developing new nuclear power in Japan may attract future outside producers of electric power to offer to export cost-competitive electric power to Japan via undersea power cables. Ongoing economic ties between China and Taiwan could include a future electric power connection. The growing demand for electric power in the Philippines could exceed their future geothermal and oceanic generating capacity, leaving the option of importing cost-competitive electric power from offshore suppliers. There is growing potential for the future transmission of electric power over international borders across Asia.

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Good general review article of futuristic possibilities of undersea cables. Would be a lot better with some map content to help the reader.

I appreciate its way to early to get into costs of these cables--but that may be the subject of a future article by the writer--or others.


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I see Prysmian corp. has been awarded a contract to install a 600 KV 2,200 MW DC undersea cable from Scotland to England but that's a relatively shallow underwater passage. Apparently the reason for underwater is to avoid the right-of-way issues with on-shore transmission. Prysmian Corp.

I believe undersea power cables still have a depth limitation of around <1000 meters, which means they can work across the Mediteranean from Egypt to Cyprus or Tunisia to Italy, but would probably have problems from Japan to Korea or Philipines to Asia. However, this Wiki article claims installations are feasible to 2,000 meters depth now, which opens up many new paths. Wikipedia - Submarine power cable though from what I can find, the deal is simply to conduct a feasability study meaning the result may simply be a statement that the technology doesn't exist. I think, from what I saw a while ago, the problem relates to an issue of having to pressurize the cables with an insulating oil, and the pressure handling capabilities of long conductor shield tubes when installed under great depths at sea. (I might be wrong).

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