SuperGrids: How to Join the Solar Power Grids of Entire Continents

India gained notoriety when it finished November’s COP26 climate summit by weakening a move to end the use of coal. Less widely recognised is that the country also started the Glasgow summit in a more positive fashion, with a plan to massively expand the reach of solar power by joining up the electricity grids of countries and even entire continents. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has talked about the idea before, but the One Sun One World One Grid initiative launched in Glasgow now has the backing of more than 80 countries, including Australia, the UK and the US. The alliance is just one example of a growing movement to create regional and, eventually, globalsupergrids”: long-distance, high-voltage cables linking each country’s growing renewable power output.

The supergrid movement is being driven partly by the need to maintain a smooth flow of power onto electricity grids. Local weather makes the amount of power generated by wind and solar variable, but this becomes less of an issue if the grid is larger and distributed over a wider geographical area. What’s more, supersized green energy projects are often sited far from the cities or industrial areas demanding their energy, be it wind farms in the North Sea or solar farms in the Australian outback. Supergrids offer a solution to this problem by connecting large renewable energy sources with the people who use the power.

The Indian government is keen on links to the Middle East, to help India decarbonise using imported renewable energy,” says Jim Watson at University College London. The UK, one of India’s partners on the One Sun One World One Grid initiative, is also considering new long-distance cables.

Last September, the UK started importing hydropower from Norway via a 724-kilometre subsea cable. In the coming years, the cable is expected to be used mostly to export electricity from the UK’s growing number of offshore wind farms so that it can be stored in hydropower facilities in Norway and released onto grids as needed. In 2022, UK start-up Xlinks will try to persuade the UK government to guarantee a minimum price for electricity generated at a mega wind and solar farm to be built in Morocco that could power UK homes via a 3800-kilometre subsea cable. “I will very confidently predict that over the next 15 years the world will see a huge number of interconnectors,” says Simon Morrish at Xlinks of such cables.

Xlinks is also working with Australian firm Sun Cable on its proposal to build the world’s largest solar farm in the north of Australia and connect it, via Darwin, to Singapore through a 4200-kilometre cable, to supply it with low-carbon electricity. In September, Sun Cable gained approval to route the high-voltage cable through Indonesian waters. 2022 may also see progress on efforts to build an “energy island” in the North Sea, which would act as a vast hub for offshore wind farms that can supply several European countries. UK company National Grid recently told New Scientist it is in talks about the pioneering project.


Climate Warming: Green Steel is Carbon-free While 1 Ton of Usual Steel Demands 2 Tons of CO2

The Swedish Company SSAB has now produced the world’s first fossil-free steel and delivered it to a customer. The trial delivery is an important step on the way to a completely fossil-free value chain for iron- and steelmaking and a milestone in the HYBRIT partnership between SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall. In July, SSAB Oxelösund rolled the first steel produced using HYBRIT technology, i.e., reduced by 100% fossil-free hydrogen instead of coal and coke, with good results. The steel is now being delivered to the first customer, the Volvo Group.

The first fossil-free steel in the world is not only a breakthrough for SSAB, it represents proof that it’s possible to make the transition and significantly reduce the global carbon footprint of the steel industry. We hope that this will inspire others to also want to speed up the green transition,” says Martin Lindqvist, President and CEO of SSAB.

Industry and especially the steel industry create large emissions but are also an important part of the solution. To drive the transition and become the world’s first fossil-free welfare state, collaboration between business, universities and the public sector is crucial. The work done by SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall within the framework of HYBRIT drives the development of the entire industry and is an international model”, explains Minister of Trade and Industry of Sweden Ibrahim Baylan.

“It’s a crucial milestone and an important step towards creating a completely fossil-free value chain from mine to finished steel. We’ve now shown together that it’s possible, and the journey continues. By industrializing this technology in the future and making the transition to the production of sponge iron on an industrial scale, we will enable the steel industry to make the transition. This is the greatest thing we can do together for the climate,” adds Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB.

It’s very pleasing that the HYBRIT partnership is once more taking an important step forward and that SSAB can now produce the first fossil-free steel and deliver to the customer. This shows how partnerships and collaboration can contribute to reducing emissions and building competitiveness for industries. Electrification is contributing to making fossil-free living possible within one generation,” comments Anna Borg, President and CEO of Vattenfall.


The Rise Of The Hydrogen Electric Car

China‘s State Council has announced last month a proposal to promote the development and construction of fueling stations for hydrogen fuel-cell cars. It was a Friday, and too late to trade on the news. On Monday, Chinese punters were ready: In the first few minutes of trading, fuel cell-related stocks gained more than $4 billion in market value, with several hitting their daily limits. The bullishness lasted all week. It’s likely to run for much longer. In less than a decade, the Chinese government has used subsidies and other policies to create the world’s largest market for battery-powered electric vehicles. That market isn’t without problems and limits, so the government is looking to diversify its bets on carbon-free transportation. Fuel cells, a technology that’s being hotly pursued in other East Asian countries (as well as the  U.S.), is their favored means of doing it. Chinese investors, having seen the opportunities created by the support for battery-electric vehicles, are right to get in early.

Fuel cells, like batteries, generate electricity that can drive a motor and vehicle. The similarities mostly stop there. Batteries are large, heavy and require charging by electricity that may or may not be generated from renewable resources. By contrast, fuel cells generate electricity (and, as a byproduct, heat and water) when hydrogen interacts with oxygen. They don’t need charging; instead, they require onboard hydrogen tanks, which are both lighter and capable of holding far more energy than a battery (allowing them to travel further). And unlike batteries, which can require hours to charge, vehicles powered in this way can be refueled in minutes, similar to traditional internal combustion engines.

Of course, if it were so easy, hydrogen vehicles would already dominate battery-powered cars (and internal combustion engines, too). Several crucial bottlenecks have inhibited their growth. First, fuel cells are the most expensive components in the car, and for years they’ve made the technology uncompetitive with battery electrics. For example, the Toyota Mirai – the Japanese company’s signature fuel-cell vehicle – sells for around $70,000 (unsubsidized). Meanwhile, Chinese battery-electric vehicles can sell for less than $10,000. Second, fuel cells might be clean-burning but hydrogen is often generated from fossil fuels, including coal. That’s problematic if the goal is carbon reduction. And third, hydrogen infrastructure – everything from pipelines to fueling stations – is both expensive and rare. In China, the cost of a hydrogen station is around $1.5 million. That’s a tough investment to make, especially when there are fewer than 5,000 fuel-cell vehicles operating in the country.

Ultimately, success will require overcoming significant technical and market hurdles. China‘s success in building a battery-electric industry guarantees that it’ll be in the race, if not the eventual leader, in this next stage in decarbonizing transport. For Chinese investors, that’s a bet worth making.