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Europe’s Grids Can’t Handle Renewables

Europe desperately needs to upgrade its power grids if it wants to keep boosting its deployment of renewable energy sources, according to the Continent’s utilities. Reuters reports:

The owners of Europe’s electricity grids say they need an injection of cash and a fresh look at regulation if they are to build and operate new, high-tech networks that can channel green energy sources into homes across the region.

So-called smart grids that can handle the intermittent flow of solar and wind energy are vital, say energy firms, if the EU is to meet its renewable energy and carbon emissions targets.

“If we want more renewables, we need smarter grids,” said Joao Torres, CEO of Portugal’s EDP Distribuicao and head of the distribution system operators’ lobby group EDSO.

Grid upgrades are a hidden cost of renewables that policymakers often neglect to factor in. Transmitting power from large coal- or gas-fired plants (or nuclear plants, for that matter) to the consumer is an entirely different endeavor than delivering energy generated from distributed solar and wind farms. Moreover, because of the intermittency of renewable energy sources, producers become consumers when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. That requires lines capable of delivering electricity in two directions, a purpose old grids weren’t built for.

Many European countries are subsidizing renewables with reckless abandon, and in doing so they’re not only passing on higher electricity costs to consumers, but also putting  a huge strain on their power grids. When you factor in the costs associated with the necessary upgrades to “smarter” distribution systems, the price tag of renewables is even more eye-popping.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    The price tag of climate change is potentially eye-popping too. Our heirs will know in 100 years which general energy paths were the wisest choices for generations now alive.

  • LA_Bob

    It’s not only European grids. There are American power generation engineers who worry about the relationship of renewable energy sources to grid management. Some of them comment on Judith Curry’s blog ( Here’s a sample from a contributor and commenter who calls himself “Planning Engineer”.

    This appears to be an extraordinarily complex technical issue, the implications of which are largely overlooked in the climate change debate.

  • lhfry

    One huge problem is the opposition to creating new substations and distribution lines. They are fought everywhere, at least in the US, mostly by environmental organizations. In addition, reducing the use of the large fossil fuel fired plants will not be possible because they will have to be retained for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Unfortunately, they don’t do well as backup, since they run most efficiently when running all the time.

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