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Guest Column

Published on: Nov. 5, 2021, 12:57 p.m.
Closer to a green power corridor
  • The power sector is single-handedly responsible for ~35 per cent of total emissions

By Pratik Agarwal. The author is Managing Director - Sterlite Power Transmission Ltd

The recent UN Intergovernmental panel report on Climate Change has sent shockwaves around the world with its stark forecast on global warming. The IPCC report estimates global temperatures to spike and breach the critical 1.5°C level within the next two decades. Mankind can no longer risk the devastating consequences of this temperature rise. There is a desperate need for reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Energy consumption is by far the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for an enormous 76 per cent of emissions (37.2 GtCO2e) worldwide. The energy sector includes transportation, electricity, heating, buildings, manufacturing and construction, fugitive emissions and other fuel combustion (https://www.wri.org/insights/4-charts-explain-greenhouse-gas-emissions-countries-and-sectors) Within this domain, the power sector is single-handedly responsible for ~35 per cent of total emissions and hence, this should be the focal point of all our efforts in this direction (https://www.un.org/en/actnow/facts-and-figures).

It is evident that any sustainable solution to reversing climate change will have to involve massive efforts towards decarbonisation and a shift to clean and green power. The global energy transition currently underway, is an urgent and well-coordinated step to accelerate mitigation efforts towards effecting deep cuts in GHG emissions. The shift from fossil fuels to renewables will need resilient and reliable Grid infrastructure to ensure power delivery to the last mile.

Meanwhile, the post-pandemic economic revival is already showing a surge in power demand even when the travel and hospitality industry is not yet back to pre-Covid levels. To stay committed to reducing GHG emissions, it has been widely accepted that the growing demand should not be serviced through a thermal heavy portfolio, and clean energy resources must contribute a larger share in the total generation mix.

Electricity Grid Interconnectors & the philosophy of Clean Power for All

Modern interconnected grids have emerged as an important pivot for clean and green energy at a time when the world is accelerating to meet climate change and sustainability goals.  

Decades ago, the national and regional power systems took root as isolated entities. Often there was a single generator serving a large city. Slowly, power systems evolved to expand out of urban centres. Interconnections among neighbouring systems gained momentum. 

Utilities started to collaborate and formed power pools to trade electricity and share capacity reserves. The first such power pool was formed in the US, in 1925. Today most of the countries have a national grid interconnecting regional load centres. 

The imperative for socio-economic development has spurred a sharp rise in demand for 24x7 reliable and quality power. This, coupled with the fact that renewable energy generation centres are mostly in different geographical locations compared to traditional power plants and away from the demand hubs, is driving investments into Transmission & Distribution networks to connect these new RE hubs.

Today transmission lines have started crossing national borders. Synchronised interconnections are fast expanding in Europe, Central & South America, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. 

Evolution of Intercontinental Grids

In keeping with global mega trends and the transition to clean and sustainable energy, Great Britain has come up with a novel solution to stay its course, not wavered by the fact that solar generation in the Great Britain is poor, especially in winter when energy demand typically spikes. Great Britain at present has 5 different interconnectors running to France, Netherlands, Belgium, Northern Ireland, and Republic of Ireland, and at least 6 more are in different stages of development. These interconnectors allow renewable energy to be exchanged all year around. 

Case in point is the connection with Norway, where when wind generation is high and electricity demand low in Great Britain, the link allows renewable power to be exported, conserving water in Norway’s reservoirs. When demand is high in Great Britain and there is low wind generation, hydro power can be imported from Norway, providing affordable and sustainable electricity to consumers in Great Britain.

Closer home, India’s  Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unveiled a grand vision of “One World, One Sun, One Grid,” envisaging a massive inter-connected global power grid transporting green energy across countries and continents. We at Sterlite Power have been working on the concept and feasibility of such a transmission interconnection between India and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries via a sub-sea HVDC link through the Arabian Sea. 

The concept behind all these intercontinental grids is very simple yet powerful. The sun is always shining bright in some part of the world, and sunshine from one country can light up another thus matching peak production with peak demand hours across borders. With the advancement in undersea cable technology, the concept of a globally inter-connected green energy grid is quickly becoming a reality.

Potential of India-Gulf Link

When India hits peak energy demand in the evening hours, the sun is likely to be shining bright in the Gulf countries. The GCC (Gulf Coordination Council) Countries can feed India’s power demand through a sub-sea link connecting both the regions. In turn, when the sun shines brightly over India during mid-day, the surplus power would cater to the morning peak demand in GCC countries.

It’s exciting to think about what this could lead to. This could pave the way for a new Green Power Corridor for the world along the sunshine tropical countries, much like how the ancient Silk Route helped establish East-West trade routes, and how the 21-km long Strait of Hormuz sees 20 per cent of all the world’s oil passing through it.

There are many countries which do not receive optimal sunlight. Hence, the only option for them is investment in fossil-fuel based power generation sources. With Intercontinental Grid, these investments can be directed to other critical sectors such as healthcare. If we could connect all countries across the solar-blessed Tropic of Cancer, then India’s vision of establishing “One World, One Sun, One Grid” would come true. The sun would practically never set for any country.

Besides connecting large Power Systems, another inherent benefit of interconnectors is the connectivity and access to cleaner sources of power accorded to Island nations like Singapore, Maldives, or Mauritius – which would otherwise be dependent on high carbon emitting sources. The electricity sourced through Intercontinental Grids would be green, thus reducing the impact on the planet and addressing climate change. 

Interconnected Grids - A significant step towards achieving net zero goals

Intercontinental Grids have the potential to transform the lives & futures of countries. They are crucial in realising the grand vision of ‘Renewable Power for All’. As we move towards a low carbon sustainable energy regime, this is an idea whose time has come. Interconnected grids across the world will encourage sharing of world energy resources and strengthen power systems and regional energy cooperation.

To make this work, the world will have to build common ground, standards, jurisdictions, and strengthen multilateral and bilateral cooperation. India, with its immense potential for generating renewable power stands to gain much as the pioneer of One World, One Sun One Grid.

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