How can renewables ever fully replace fossil fuels?
“We are putting the equivalent of 4 Hiroshima atomic bombs of pollution into the atmosphere every second” – Eddie O’Connor, founder and CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power.
As a successful entrepreneur, Eddie is regularly asked why he doesn’t just settle down into a comfortable lifestyle and not work another day. But for him, it’s not about working to earn money, it’s about working to solve problems, creating sound solutions, and being successful at it. It’s about solving the issues he is passionate about.
Eddie’s pollution statement may come as a shock to many of you. Although we are all aware of the impact that burning fossil fuels has on our planet, it is often easy for us to forget the scale of this issue. From politicians to business people, to the average citizen, it’s easy for us to pass it off as someone else’s problem; a problem for the future. But the future is now. If we don’t drastically change how we harness energy within the next 10 years, we will put hundreds of millions of people at risk of life threatening droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty.
Huge progress has been made in the last decade, resulting in around 20% of the electricity generated globally to be provided by renewable sources, like wind and solar. The problem is, the world’s transmission and distribution networks were built for dispatchable, conventional generation. The two major sources of renewable energy, the wind and the sun, are intermittent, and therefore not guaranteed wherever and whenever they are required. This means that greater penetration of intermittent renewable energy into the electricity grids poses new challenges for system operators. This is a problem that Eddie is acutely aware of; and it is the reason that he is working to develop SuperNode.
SuperNode is a hugely ambitious concept; to provide a continent-wide, interconnected, meshed transmission network supplied mainly by renewables. Offshore wind farms are much more efficient at harvesting wind energy than onshore. Winds at sea are more consistent, the surface of the ocean is frictionless compared to onshore sites, and wind at sea is faster and more powerful. This means that not only can we build turbine blades larger, but we can generate vastly larger amounts of power.
The problem with offshore windfarms is that there is no pre-existing transmission network to connect to. Expensive cabling is required to create one-off transmission links between new wind farms and the onshore grid. SuperNode will solve this problem by providing a transmission network at sea, which as many wind farms (and solar PV) as required could connect to.
The EU is the perfectly placed to lead this project, with a lot of interconnection already in place on the continent and very strong political will to grow renewables. Interconnection is key, and for this project to get off the ground it will need world leaders ready to champion the cause and collaborate with each other for a future energy supply without borders, without conflict and without CO2 emissions.
The idea of using renewable energy is a no brainer to most people throughout the EU. So why don’t we as an established union make use of our commitment to energy union to create a continent-wide solution that allows us to become completely self-sufficient and renewably powered?
This blog is written by Maria O’Neill and Tom Stanton from the SuperNode team and edited by Ellen Le Bas. SuperNode is part of the 2018 UCD Sustainability Launchpad led by UpThink in association with the UCD Energy Institute and sponsored by our Industry Partners Mainstream Renewable Power. If you have any questions about the Launchpad programme email firstname.lastname@example.org.