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Globetrotting with Supergrid Proposals


Supergrid could very well be the name of the first utility-based comic book hero, but actually it's a transmission system for electricity that's taking place across the world. As defined by The Economist, supergrids start with direct current being transmitted at high voltages (HVDC) to minimize transmission losses. 

The prefix "super-" conveys three of the word's meanings. One is literal: HVDC lines function as arteries that move large amounts of electricity above and separate from the existing AC grid. The second is superlative: the supergrid has greater geographical extent than the normal grid. The third sense, of quality, is more an aspiration than definition: that the supergrid will be better than what we have now, a vision of a perfectly functioning zero-carbon global electrical transmission system."

Given the hype behind such supergrid technology, it's no surprise that utilities and countries across the world are looking into advanced plans for such energy transmission technology, which would allow for faster, more adaptable, and more efficient energy management processes. 

China is planning on building the world's biggest supergrid. Because the nation is so vast, highly populated, and quickly industrializing, managing Chinese energy systems is critical to worldwide climate goals to ensure that clean power can make its way from where it's made to where it's needed. That's where the Chinese supergrid comes in:

The result of all this effort is an emerging nationwide supergrid that will interconnect China's six regional grids and rectify the huge geographic mismatch between where China produces its cleanest power (in the north and west) and where power is consumed (in the densely populated east). By using higher voltages of direct current, which flows through conductors more uniformly than does alternating current, the new transmission lines dramatically reduce the amount of power that's lost along the way.

Image result for supergrid china

Europe, likewise, is studying and realizing that a cross-border supergrid is likely the least cost option to achieve the Paris Agreement emission reduction goals. According to a recent study published by the Lappeenrate University of Technology

"The results clearly show that the least cost solution is based on domestic and decentralized supply with cross-border trade, as this reduces the total electricity system cost from 69 €/MWH in 2015 to 51 €/MWh in 2050." said Christian Breyer. "A substantive economic benefit through cross-border trade is worth 26 b€ per year, by trading only 12% of total end user electricity demand in Europe."

"A SuperSmart approach respects the unique contributions that different regions of Europe can make whild adhereing to a clearly defined target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."

Image result for supergrid europe

The European approach is unique from China because you add in the crossing national boundaries and energy trade aspect to the equation, but the main point is the same: supergrid technology can help fill in clean energy gaps in pockets across the region. 

Last but not least, the North American Supergrid (NAS) has been proposed by DC-based Climate Institute in an effort to help reduce CO2 emissions while also ensuring a grid system that is resilient to natural and malicious threats:

The NAS has been proposed as a nodal high voltage direct current (HVDC) network. As a largely underground transmission systems, it would extend across the lower 48 states, thus creating a national electricity market. The Supergrid would create a resilient backbone to the existing system and make clean renewable energy competitive with fossil fuel-generated energy in open markets.

Adding the Supergrid atop the existing regional alternating current distribution system would provide the flexibility and reliability that would enable expanded use of electricity across the economy, without altering how electricity is currently used in homes or businesses. This would also afford electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and geomagnetic disturbance protection not garnered from the current system, as well as much needed fortification against increasingly common natural disasters.

Image result for supergrid north american

What are your takeaways? Do you see utility companies pushing forward on the supergrid technology? Are there complications you expect to arise?

Matt Chester's picture

Thank Matt for the Post!

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Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on March 13, 2019

Matt, really great article, as usual. There's a really good video presentation by Sandy MacDonald that explains the NAS project.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on March 13, 2019

Thanks for the kind words! And that's a great video, really appreciate you sharing it

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