Global Report: the clean energy race

Many of the world’s largest economies are shifting away from fossil fuels in pursuit of net zero emissions by 2050. But some countries are well ahead of the pack when it comes to the production of renewable energy

words / Karen Heaney

Illustration / coen Pohl

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Connecting the UK’s and Norway’s power grids

National Grid, together with Statnett, Norway’s power grid operator, are constructing an electricity interconnector (high voltage cable) between the UK and Norway. The North Sea Link (NSL) will run for 700km under the sea between Kvilldal and Blyth, linking the electricity systems of the two countries. When it goes live at the end of this year, it will be the longest subsea cable in the world.

Norwegian power generation comes predominantly from hydropower plants connected to large reservoirs. The upside of this method is that it’s very flexible and agile in responding to fluctuations in demand. The downside is that water levels in the reservoirs are dependent on weather conditions, and power generation varies according to the seasons and weather patterns. And while the UK has higher wind speeds and fewer lulls than most countries in Europe, there are also zero wind days, so windfarm output can be very variable.

NSL is a big step forward for both countries in terms of maximising their zero carbon natural resources. When it’s windy in the UK and wind power production is high, Norway will be able to import power from the UK at a lower price than the Norwegian market and conserve the water in its hydropower reservoirs. Conversely, when there’s little wind to generate power in the UK, the British can import enough Norwegian hydroelectricity to power 1.4 million homes.

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Underwater connection
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Denmark’s energy island

When it comes to green energy, Denmark has always been ahead of the curve. In 1991 the nation built the first offshore wind farm and now it is set for another global first – the government has agreed to take a majority stake in an “energy island” in the North Sea that will eventually supply power to 10 million homes.

It’s a hugely ambitious – and expensive – project. It involves building an artificial island 80km off the coast of Denmark that will act as a hub transmission centre for hundreds of wind turbines in the sea around it. With an estimated cost of £25bn, it’s Denmark’s largest ever construction project.

The first phase will see the building of an island roughly the size of 18 football pitches. Initially two hundred wind turbines will supply three gigawatts of electricity a year, but the plan is to scale up to six hundred turbines producing 10 gigawatts. Enormous batteries will store surplus power for high-demand periods. In addition to green electricity, the plan is to use the offshore island to convert seawater into green hydrogen.

Where Denmark leads, other nations can follow. “It’s in Danish waters, yes, but it could conceptually be in any other country,” said Peter Larsen of the North Sea Wind Power Hub Programme.
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Buzz Phrase: Stranded Assets

Stranded assets are assets that at some point before the end of their economic life no longer earn a return. For example, when electricity replaced oil lamps for domestic lighting, businesses found their oil lamp inventory devalued and the whaling industry lost its market for whale oil. Today, the term is mainly used to describe assets that are worth less than expected, thanks to shifts in demand associated with energy transition and climate change. In this context, fossil fuel resources that haven’t yet been extracted can be classed as stranded assets, as there is pressure on oil and gas companies to leave these reserves in the ground. This has a potential knock-on effect for other industries. For example, lower demand for fossil fuels could impact on the shipping industry in the form of lower demand for oil tankers and other vessels that carry coal or other carbon-intensive commodities such as iron ore.