The World from Berlin: 'The European Answer to the Failed Climate Summit in Copenhagen'

An international power grid for green energy planned in Northern Europe could usher in a new era in both carbon-free power and cross-border competition among the continent's energy firms. But it's still a long way off, argue German commentators.

A wind turbine in France, pictured, could be linked to homes in Britain or Germany if Europe builds a planned new power grid. Zoom
REUTERS

A wind turbine in France, pictured, could be linked to homes in Britain or Germany if Europe builds a planned new power grid.

Funding for a nine-nation project to link power-generation projects in a high-tech North Sea power grid was announced on Tuesday, sketching the future of European attempts to harness renewable energy. The idea is to link wind farms off Denmark, for example, with solar parks in Germany and tidal power stations in Belgium to create a regional grid of clean power, and it's been hailed on Wednesday morning by German papers as a major step in the fight against global warming.

Economists and politicians see the planned supergrid as a milestone. "The cabling of the North Sea is the European answer to the failed climate summit in Copenhagen," said Josef Auer, an energy analyst at Deutsche Bank Research. Despite the conference, he said, "Europe is pushing forward in its use of renewable energies."

The nine nations involved -- Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland and Norway -- will reportedly commit €30 billion ($43 billion) to the supergrid of high-voltage, undersea cables over the next 10 years. The grid will redistribute and regularize power flows from sometimes-fickle natural sources, and internationalize an industry that can often be hampered by national interests.

The plan is similar to the Desertec solar project announced in Europe last year, which aims to bring solar energy from North Africa to European Union customers through a power grid under the Mediterranean Sea -- using nothing but existing technology.

Most of the funding for the North Sea grid is meant to be private, though the EU Commission promised €165 million in start-up funding at the end of 2009. Coordinators from each of the nine nations involved will meet on Feb. 9, with the hope of drafting a letter of intent by the fall.

German papers on Wednesday are largely ecstatic about prospects for the breakthrough project.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"If the project goes through, it will revolutionize the European energy market. A network like this is the main prerequisite for a breakthrough in renewable energies."

"Offshore wind farms produce huge amounts of electricity now, but they can't run constantly. If they were linked to other renewable-energy sources like hydroelectric dams, tidal-energy stations or solar arrays in a single grid, natural variations in supply could be evened out."

"The question is not whether a cooperative energy grid is sensible. The question is how quickly such a vision can be translated into concrete capital investment. This, in turn, relies on the will of both governments and corporations. They should sweep away administrative hurdles as soon as possible and commit a sizeable amount of money."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues:

"A better network for the European energy market is vital, but so far Germany itself hasn't sufficiently linked up its land-based wind farms. The resistance against new cables has been too strong. Who should pay for them? … Many people believe the state should maintain a controlling share in such a network. Should it also, therefore, invest the money? The financial crisis has mothballed many plans for expanding ocean-based wind farms. To suddenly build a multi-billion-euro international grid seems problematic."

"A new network is important, so planning for it is right. But the German government should be careful, in the face of exuberance over the North Sea grid, not to take a second step before the first -- and leave, for instance, its Baltic Sea neighbors in the cold."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"As long as narrow national interests survive in energy politics, resources will be wasted. Today, the better part of European solar output is (inefficiently) produced in cloud-shrouded Germany and not in sunny Spain."

"Now a solution is in sight. Nine European states want to lay an energy grid on the bottom of the North Sea … With a grid like this, green power would be constantly, reliably on tap. The international network would also form the basis for a European energy market, which would lead to more competition between suppliers and falling prices."

"But the notion that a North Sea grid could be finished in 10 years is unrealistic. It's taken 10 years to build a normal high-capacity grid in the Münster countryside in Germany. The technology still doesn't exist to finish such a project: Necessary transformer stations for DC current haven't been developed. And no energy firm would sink €30 billion in the North Sea before the technology is up to speed."

-- SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

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