UK and India launch plan for global connected green grids

The UK and India have launched an initiative to boost the deployment of interconnected electricity grids across continents in a move that it is hoped will ease the low-carbon energy transition.

The ‘Green Grids Initiative – One Sun One World One Grid’ was announced at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow and was also slated to include mini-grids and off-grid solutions to ensure no one is left without access to energy.

Moving to energy systems that are heavily reliant on renewable sources like wind and solar power will require development of infrastructure that is capable of coping with far greater shares of variable energy while meeting growing power demands.

Cross-continental energy grids will make it easier to transport energy from one area to another depending on where it is most needed. For example, an area that has surplus renewable generation from high wind speeds could supply demand in another location that does not have the same ability to generate low-carbon energy.

A recent analysis from the International Energy Agency called for a tripling in investment in grid expansion and modernisation from $260bn to $800bn annually by 2030.

The initiative was backed by more than 80 countries and could set a model for how rich countries could help poorer ones to reduce their emissions and meet the goal of capping global warming at 1.5°C.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The UK is working hand in hand with our friends in India to transform the future of the power sector and ensure clean and reliable electricity is accessible everywhere by the end of this decade.

“It’s fantastic that over 80 countries have backed our newly launched Green Grids Initiative, whose collaboration will not only see greater growth, jobs and investment in our global green future, but also make sure no one is left without access to energy.”

India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said at the launch: “If the world has to move to a clean and green future, these interconnected transnational grids are going to be critical solutions. I congratulate the International Solar Alliance and the UK COP Presidency for bringing it nearer to implementation.”

Speaking to Reuters, US independent energy expert Matthew Wald said the plan acknowledged the need for more transmission lines for renewable facilities since they are often built further away from cities, unlike traditional coal or gas-fired plants which have their fuel transported directly to them.

But Wald admitted that various countries, including the former Soviet Union, have made only limited progress in developing infrastructure that enables cheap transmission across time zones. Although powerline technology has improved in recent years, he and others said the plan would require spending large sums of money.

Mark Goudie, who is on the IET’s Energy Policy Panel, said: “While I’ve been at COP26, this has been one of the announcements that has really caught my attention as an electrical engineer. This announcement emphasises the importance of electrical transmission infrastructure for the low-carbon transition.

“The interconnection of countries can support energy system resilience and improve diversity through each country adding its own local energy system characteristics.

“The announcement rightly highlights that this needs to be supported by other measures, to fully support the low-carbon transition. Emphasis should also be placed on local grid infrastructure - ensuring that both the local and interconnected infrastructure is well placed to support communities on their own decarbonisation journey.”

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