Scientific American Article that disparages the supergrid

For now, this is a place-holder. Below is a letter by Roy Morrison about the Scientific American article. I will write my own letter to the editor later, and substitute/modify the text below from Roy.

Prospects for Continental Grids

Vacil Smil's prediction (Scientific American Jan. 2014) of a long and painfully slow rise of solar and wind, offering little in way of timely greenhouse gas reduction, is an accurate business as usual projection.

But facing global ecological catastrophe means these are not usual times. In fact, Smil correctly indicates that continental scale efficient renewable energy grids, that are inherently self-balancing, represents a potential game changer1Alas, Smil says, there is sometimes opposition to power line construction, and leaves it at that. This is opposition that can be and must be circumvented for us to gain the huge economic benefits of continental grids. 

I have been working on the idea of putting high capacity HVDC lines underground for many years; the elpipe is but one example of a high capacity HVDC underground electricity pipeline (though I am convinced it is the most practical approach). I am of course pushing for my solution, but there are at least three other examples of technologies that move the supergrid underground:

  • Gas-insulated lines;
  • High temperature superconducting (HTS) lines (cooled by liquid nitrogen);
  • Type 1 superconducting lines, cooled with liquid helium or liquid hydrogen in a few cases (notably, magnesium diboride).
Each of these alternatives has flaws that elpipes do not, as is discussed elsewhere in my blog.

 Moving the main links of a continental grid underground would overcome the opposition (most of it, anyhow) to the new powerlines needed for a continental-scale supergrid. There is a pathway forward to continental scale efficient renewable grids and green house gas reduction before it is too late.

1See Gregor Czisch (2010). “Scenarios for a Future Electricity Supply”. The Institution of Engineering and Technology, ISBN 978-84919-156-2; Original German language dissertation is available as a free download from Kassel University (http://www.agenda21-treffpunkt.de/doku/sign.php?sg=Czisch-2006).

I also found this excellent letter about Smil's SA article by Doug MacKenzie, posted online on his blog:

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