Declaring that the UN’s consensus-based process is moving too slowly to solve the climate crisis, a global, non-partisan group of elected officials is trying to lead the charge to decarbonize the world’s electricity grids.
The Green Grids Initiative (GGI) drew support from more than 80 countries led by India and the United Kingdom on Tuesday, the second day of COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Reuters reports. It launched in 2014 with a plan to use smart grid and high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technologies to get the carbon pollution out of the world’s electricity supply.
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“If the world has to move to a clean and green future, these interconnected transnational grids are going to be critical solutions,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement.
“We have to shift very, very fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy everywhere in order to stay within a safe carbon limit,” Climate Parliament co-founder and secretary-general Nicholas Dunlop told the side meeting, pointing to the August, 2021 IPCC science assessment that showed the available carbon budget for a 1.5°C future running out in four to 10 years.
“There’s more than enough renewable energy to power every car, every factory, every building with clean energy,” Dunlop added. But to get it done, “we’ll need new political vehicles that go faster” than the COP was ever designed to, “and we’re hoping the Green Grids Initiative will be such a vehicle.”
The GGI starts out with the suggestion—whether or not it’s intended literally—that solar panels across a single, large patch of the Sahara Desert in northern Africa would supply as much electricity as the world produces today. That scheme raises issues ranging from the ecosystem impacts of the power station to the reliability and resilience of a grid that depends on a single, large source of generation. But the calculation gives “just an idea of how much resource we have if we just connect ourselves to it,” Dunlop maintained.
A video short that GGI used to open the workshop touted a global grid that would address any remaining intermittency problems with often stunningly affordable solar and wind technologies. Using a wider grid to back up more distributed renewables across regional and national borders “allows us to transform economies and save lives because of climate change, which will have immeasurable impact,” said Paddy Padmanatha, CEO and president of ACWA Power, a Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia-based power and desalination company with operations in 13 countries.
“From a technical point of view it’s perfectly easy to power the world from renewable energy,” Dunlop said. “You build long distance HVDC lines that can transmit power thousands of kilometres with very little [line] loss, to link us all to the areas where renewable energy is most abundant.”
The video also pointed to a rather more decentralized use for a globally-interconnected power system, with Dunlop suggesting an analogy to another global grid that “we’ve all got used to using and take for granted”. Just as anyone from the biggest producer to the smallest user can feed information into the Internet or draw it back out, “it needs to be the same with energy,” he said, with a grid that can accept power from the largest utility-scale solar system or a rooftop panel.
“We need to think beyond the nation-state and share our clean energy resources in order for everyone to have an unlimited supply of clean, cheap, energy,” he said, adding that the biggest obstacle to his vision is not public buy-in, but a lack of political leadership.
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