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Energy from North Africa: H2 or HVDC?

Energy from North Africa: H2 or HVDC?

It has, in the recent past, been question of supplying Electricity from North Africa with notably the quickly miscarried project of Desertec. Could there be a revived or rebirth of the same or potentially the inception of the same? Would this explain the long and quiet convalescence of the Algerian president in Germany? In the meantime, kinimod in his WP page, wonders whether Energy from North Africa: h2 or hvdc?

(Image: BarneyElo, Pixabay)

The German energy demand is currently only covered to 17 % from renewable sources, albeit with an increasing tendency of half a percent per year (

So 83 % are still missing for a complete decarbonization. The majority of this, namely 71 % of the total requirement, is currently covered by imports ( To do this, writes, we have to increase our photovoltaic area tenfold and our wind energy generation four times – a goal that many consider unattainable due to the acceptance problems of Germans.

One way out might be to import electricity and hydrogen on a large scale in the future instead of oil and gas. Then the gigantic solar fields would not cover German meadows, but Spanish, North African or Saudi Arabian desert areas, a win-win solution. Another advantage are supposedly the costs: since the capacity factor in Germany is only around 0.1, i.e. a 1 kW system only produces as much electricity in 10 hours as it would produce with one hour of full power, this factor in North Africa is 0.2 or higher ( For the same annual amount of energy, only half as much solar panel space is required, which is why solar power produced there costs only about half – or less. The countries there would have a slight additional income (which of course would increase the energy price again a little) and we would be rid of some of our energy worries.

There are roughly two paths for this solution:

  • Electrolytically produced hydrogen, that is either liquefied directly or converted to ammonia with atmospheric nitrogen and then liquefied – which requires slightly less complex transport ships. It can also be transported by pipeline.
  • Direct transmission of the solar power, perhaps buffered with storage for the hours after sunset, via HVDC lines.

What about the costs?

Renewable electricity is considerably cheaper in the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa) and southern Europe than here. In Portugal, solar power projects for 1.12 euro cents / kWh were agreed this year. In 2030, solar electricity costs are likely to be well below 1 c / kWh. In Germany, the electricity production costs for solar power are already below 4 c / kWh ( In its position paper, the Federal Association of the New Energy Industry expects solar power production costs in Germany to be around 2.5 c / kWh, with storage adding another 1 ± 0.5 c.

Electricity can be transmitted with high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines over thousands of kilometers with little loss. In China there are some very long connections that bring wind power from the west to the industrial zones in the east. Starting in 2027, Singapore will receive a fifth of its electricity from a gigantic Australian solar field via the Suncable project – via a 3700 km long HVDC submarine cable. This electricity is supposed to cost 3.4 UScent / kWh. A storage facility in Australia will then still provide electricity in the evening hours (Forbes).

Generally, a 3000 km line adds 1.5 – 2.5 c / kWh to the electricity price (EIA study).

This means that the transport costs for MENA electricity are higher than the corresponding doubling of the German solar area (in 2030).

The cost of hydrogen consists of the cost of electricity, the cost of the electrolysis, which is mainly determined by the high investment for the electrolysers, and the transport costs.

For 2030 we can estimate electricity costs of 1 c / kWh for the south and 2.5 c / kWh for Germany. Storage costs of 1 c / kWh that may be reasonable are incurred everywhere.

The electrolyser costs in 2030 are given by Prognos as 2 – 8 c / kWh, in the EWI study with 1.5 – 2.4 c / kWh. They should be the same for all manufacturing regions.

According to the EWI study, the transport method is crucial for transport costs. If an existing pipeline can be rededicated and used for hydrogen, as is the case for southern Spain, they are low at around 0.4 c / kWh. However, if a ship has to be used, they rise to around 3 c / kWh because of the liquefaction required for this – or the conversion into ammonia and the subsequent liquefaction and the use of specialized ships.

With a little optimism we will end up with a hydrogen price of around 5 c/kWh for local production, around 4 c/kWh for southern Spain (pipeline transport) and around 6 c/kW for MENA production.

Electricity via HVDC would cost around 3.5 c/kWh, similar to the Sunline project, which roughly corresponds to the price for locally generated electricity.

Facit: Electricity from the south is not cheaper for us than local electricity because the electricity transport eats up the cost advantage. For H2 we can save a small cost advantage with pipeline transport if the pipeline already exists and only needs to be rededicated. In the case of ship transport, however, the hydrogen becomes considerably more expensive.

Since we will need a lot of electricity and also hydrogen for the decarbonisation of the economy, it may be necessary to obtain electricity, hydrogen or both from the south due to competition for land. Here, southern Spain is the cheapest export region, as both electricity and hydrogen transport infrastructure already exist. Electricity from North Africa would best be transported to Europe via HVDC and only converted into hydrogen there, because the transport costs for hydrogen by ship would be higher.

Smooth Integration of Renewable Energy

Smooth Integration of Renewable Energy

Hybrid technology trial aims for smooth integration of renewable energy by Professional Engineering is an eye opener into what is currently going on behind the scene.

4 December 2020

A new hybrid system will inject or absorb energy from the transmission network to maintain voltage levels as renewable power levels fluctuate.

Smooth Integration of Renewable Energy
Stock image. The hybrid system could aid the smooth transition to renewable power by compensating for variable sources such as wind and solar (Credit: Shutterstock)

The technology, being tested in a new year-long trial at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, could aid the smooth transition from conventional energy generation to renewable power by compensating for variable sources such as wind and solar. SP Energy Networks, the University of Strathclyde and the Technical University of Denmark are also involved in the trial.

The system combines a static compensator (statcom) with a synchronous condenser. The result can deliver a combination of fast reaction, spinning capacity and short circuit control, injecting or absorbing energy to keep voltage levels within the required limits. It will provide a spinning reserve over a few seconds until other resources, such as batteries or reserve generators, can be brought online.  

Electricity regulator Ofgem funded the Phoenix project, which started in 2018. The outcome of the project, including the new trial, is expected to contribute cumulative savings of over 62,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, equivalent to the electricity use of over 6,000 homes. 

Hitachi ABB Power Grids installed the hybrid solution, a strategic 275 kilovolt (kV) substation on SP Energy Networks’ transmission network near Glasgow. The project partners will evaluate the installation’s performance over the year-long trial.  

“While power stations produce a steady and constant flow of energy, renewable energy generators like wind and solar can fluctuate as they respond to different weather conditions,” said Niklas Persson, managing director of Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ grid integration.

“This pioneering hybrid solution combines existing technology with an innovative control system that will enable a reliable and stable energy supply, while accelerating the UK towards a carbon neutral future.” 

Colin Taylor, director of processes and technology at SP Energy Networks, said: “I’m very proud that we have been able to drive forward with the Phoenix project this year, despite the recent pandemic and its challenges.

“This world-first innovative project has just reached a key milestone following the commencement of its live trial. Technology like this allows us to accommodate even more renewable generation on our electricity system while maintaining levels of system stability and resilience.”  

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 

Record New Renewable Energy Capacity This Year and Next

Record New Renewable Energy Capacity This Year and Next

In these difficult days, Record new renewable energy capacity this year and next: IEA by Nina Chestney sheds some light in the unending and stuffy tunnel that the world’s economy finds itself stuck-in. Wind turbines lining the roads, roof mounted solar panels generating energy for all are more and more visible even in the MENA region, oil exporters or not.

LONDON, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Record levels of new renewable energy capacity are set to come on stream this year and next, while fossil fuel capacity will fall due to an economic slump and the COVID-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report.

Record New Renewable Energy Capacity This Year and Next
FILE PHOTO: Wind turbines, which generate renewable energy, are seen on the Zafarana Wind Farm at the desert road of Suez outside of Cairo, Egypt September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

In its annual renewables outlook, the IEA said new additions of renewables capacity worldwide would increase by 4% from last year to a record 198 gigawatts (GW) this year.

This means renewables will account for almost 90% of the increase in total power capacity worldwide this year.

Supply chain disruptions and construction delays slowed the progress of renewable energy projects in the first six months of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the construction of plants and manufacturing activity has ramped up again, and logistical challenges have been mostly resolved, the IEA said.

Electricity generated by renewables will increase by 7% globally this year, despite a 5% annual drop in global energy demand, the largest since World War Two.

Next year, renewable capacity additions are on track for a rise of almost 10%, which would be the fastest growth since 2015.

“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

Policymakers need to support the strong momentum behind renewables growth and if policy uncertainties are addressed, renewable energy capacity additions could reach 271 GW in 2022,the IEA said.

In 2025, renewables are set to become the largest source of electricity generation worldwide, supplying one third of the world’s electricity, and ending coal’s five decades as the topglobal power source, the report said.

Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Mark Potter

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

ECO-INTELLIGENT‘s writeup By Saurab Babu is about Energy mix of the future: Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy.


According to the World Energy Outlook 2019, almost 1 billion people in the world today do not have access to reliable electricity. As the world continues to lift people out of poverty and bring access to electricity to deep corners of the world, the global energy requirements, including for electricity and for industry, are going to go up.

At the same time, it is widely accepted that we need to find different energy sources. Carbon intensive sources like fuelwood, coal and natural gas need to be phased out as we build a climate-resilient world. Several authorities have come onboard the need for low-carbon energy generation. (And even if you don’t believe in the CO2-induced theory of climate change, the fact remains that using fuelwood, coal and gas-based energy generation has terrible health consequences.)

Discussing low-carbon energy invariably leads to a big debate: Renewables vs nuclear.According to you, which form of low-carbon should the world depend on?Renewable energyNuclear energyI’ll answer this after reading the article (okay! There’s another poll at the end for you!)VoteView ResultsCrowdsignal.comAdvertisementsabout:blankREPORT THIS AD

Option 1: Renewable energy (solar and wind)

When we talk of renewables, most people stress on solar and wind energy.

advantages of solar and wind energy

Solar and wind have become increasingly popular in the last two decades. They are being promoted as the energy sources of the future because they do not emit GHGs during electricity production. Even their emissions during manufacturing and decommissioning pale compared to other forms of energy. Energy generation from renewables is expected to grow by 300% by 2040 due to their popularity and advancements in battery storage technology.

Producing energy from wind and solar has become cheaper—costs of generating electricity from wind and solar have fallen by 90% in the last 20 years.

Solar and wind farms are also easier and faster to build compared to most other sources of energy.

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

They are flexible and can ramp energy production up or down at a moment’s notice, depending on the demand. This is important in today’s energy use scenario. For example, if a popular TV show runs from 9:00 – 9:30 PM, we will see a spike in energy demands at 9 PM followed by a dip in demands at 9:30 PM. We also have situations of negative demand, when people generate more electricity (from their rooftop solar) than they use and supply the surplus to the grid. In such cases, other sources of energy would need to ramp down. Such situations place undue stress on the grids, which renewables can easily handle.

The biggest advantage from solar and wind is their independence from the grid. Set up panels or windmills on your rooftop and you can produce your own electricity without depending on the grid! This ability makes these options attractive in unelectrified areas and areas very far from electricity generation plants.Advertisements THIS AD

Option 2: Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is not new; nuclear power plants have existed since the 1950s. Nuclear power plants also do not emit GHGs during electricity production and are a good low-carbon energy source. Several features of nuclear energy make it a superb source of energy for the future.

advantages of nuclear energy

The most impressive by far is its power density: nuclear energy produces more power per unit volume than any other form of electricity source we know. This also makes them space-efficient. Even their waste products can be contained within a small space, compared to the waste generated by decommissioned solar and wind infrastructure.

They are stable and reliable. If the nuclear power plant works properly, we can be guaranteed a given amount of electricity at all times. This is key in industrial areas and urban centers where the demand for energy rarely fluctuates. Often, these areas are also well-connected to the grid and require large amounts of power, making nuclear a more attractive option than the intermittent, power-thin renewables.

Contrary to popular belief, it is safe. Nuclear disasters have occurred largely due to mismanagement and primitive technology, both of which are avoidable in today’s world. Nuclear wastes also need not be dangerous if proper precautions are taken and protocols are diligently followed.

However, solar and wind are far from ideal…

Solar and wind have their fair share of criticisms.

disadvantages of solar and wind energy

First, they are intermittent: we cannot get reliable electricity throughout the day, month or year from either of these sources. This means we need a back-up—either through battery storage (who’s capacity is still low) or through coal/natural gas plants (kind of beats the purpose)—or we need a combination of different renewable energy sources that can feed support each other. The need for backup, along with the new grid infrastructure we need to interconnect different renewable sources, has increased the cost of electricity for consumers even though the cost of energy has gone down.

Second, they have low power densities; they produce low energy per unit volume compared to fossil fuels and nuclear. This means that if we tried to power the world entirely by a combination of different renewable energy sources, we would need A LOT space. For example, if the entire world was to be powered by solar, we would need a land area the size of South Africa. Not at all efficient.

Third, the infrastructure we create for wind and solar has a lifespan of 25-30 years. What happens at the end of their lifespan? Disposing solar panels and windmills are a huge pain, requiring massive infrastructure to recycle their components. If we didn’t recycle them, we would dump them in landfills and cause an environmental disaster.

When we try to scale solar and wind energy generation through parks or farms, this technology incurs a significant ecological cost. Solar farms displace animals from their homes and create a heat island that is unconducive to most lifeforms. Similarly, wind farms are notorious for their interference with the flight paths of large birds and bats.

Nuclear energy also has problems…

disadvantages of nuclear energy

Nuclear energy’s biggest detractor is its construction. It takes a long time and a lot of money to construct a nuclear power plant. This isn’t ideal because we need to cheaply and quickly produce low-carbon forms of electricity to meet the rising demands around the world. Construction of nuclear power plants is also very carbon-intensive.

Looking at the big debate between renewables and nuclear energy

Nuclear isn’t traditionally flexible, and modern designs offer limited flexibility, which isn’t ideal in places with highly variable energy demands.

Introducing nuclear energy (and wastes) in countries that do not yet have access to this technology creates the risk for weaponization. While the chances of an all-out nuclear war continue to be low, the risk cannot be discounted.

Should we be choosing one or the other?

For the longest time, I felt that this is a binary option. That is how the debate has been structured on the global stage. But a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of renewables and nuclear paint a different picture. See for yourself…

This table compares the two forms of energy against several parameters of a future energy grid.

Solar/wind vs nuclear: A comparison against several grid and environmental parameters

Clearly, nuclear and solar/wind are complimentary: where one falls short, the other can support.Advertisementsabout:blankREPORT THIS AD

Conclusion: Should we rely on only one form of energy?

Given different needs in different areas of life, it is unwise to depend on any one form of energy. For example, solar/wind is cheaper and faster to electrify rural areas, where the need for electricity remains low and it is expensive to connect them to the grid. Nuclear makes sense in cities and industrial complexes that need reliable, stable and cheap electricity all the time.

Let me ask you the question again:According to you, which form of low-carbon should the world depend on?Renewable energyNuclear energyA combination of bothVoteView

Bonus: Are hydroelectricity, bioenergy, geothermal and tidal the best of both worlds?

Many people mention these sources under renewables. In fact, hydroelectric power plants form the largest proportion of the renewable energy mix. However, they behave differently compared to solar and wind and have many features of nuclear energy.

Hydroelectricity, bioenergy, geothermal and tidal—can counter many shortcomings of solar and wind, like power density and intermittency. Unlike nuclear, they are relatively cheaper and faster to build.

But they come with their own problems. They are all highly location-specific, take time and resources to construct, and occupy a lot of space causing huge environmental and social damage.

These forms of energy make sense depending on the location. Hydro, geothermal, tidal and bioenergy can generate all the energy a region requires, or can easily work with solar and wind to meet energy needs. They can be a reliable substitute to nuclear energy in controversial places where energy requirements are high and consistent.

The future of energy in a low-carbon world, according to me, does not have to renewable OR nuclear. We need a bit of both (the relative proportions, of course, are debatable). Their features are complimentary and the next generation energy grid should evolve to accommodate both forms of energy.

A New Solar and Lighting technology

A New Solar and Lighting technology

Sam Stranks, University of Cambridge describes “How a new solar and lighting technology could propel a renewable energy transformation”. This will undeniably come to some help those countries that have opted strongly for renewables, such as Tunisia.

The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history. This is particularly true of solar-powered electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unprecedented rates over the past decade and energy efficient technologies such as LED lighting have also expanded.

Access to cheap and ubiquitous solar power and storage will transform the way we produce and use power, allowing electrification of the transport sector. There is potential for new chemical-based economies in which we store renewable energy as fuels, and support new devices making up an “internet of things”.

But our current energy technologies won’t lead us to this future: we will soon hit efficiency and cost limits. The potential for future reductions in the cost of electricity from silicon solar, for example, is limited. The manufacture of each panel demands a fair amount of energy and factories are expensive to build. And although the cost of production can be squeezed a little further, the costs of a solar installation are now dominated by the extras – installation, wiring, the electronics and so on.

A New Solar and Lighting technology
Two workers with white gloves work on a solar panel.
Workers in a factory of a Chinese solar panel maker in Hangzhou, China. EPA/STR

This means that current solar power systems are unlikely to meet the required fraction of our 30 TeraWatt (TW) global power requirements (they produce less than 1 TW today) fast enough to address issues such as climate change.

Likewise, our current LED lighting and display technologies are too expensive and not of good enough colour quality to realistically replace traditional lighting in a short enough time frame. This is a problem, as lighting currently accounts for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions. New technologies are needed to fill this gap, and quickly.

Halide perovskites

Our lab in Cambridge, England, is working with a promising new family of materials known as halide perovskites. They are semiconductors, conducting charges when stimulated with light. Perovskite inks are deposited onto glass or plastic to make extremely thin films – around one hundredth of the width of a human hair – made up of metal, halide and organic ions. When sandwiched between electrode contacts, these films make solar cell or LED devices.

Amazingly, the colour of light they absorb or emit can be changed simply by tweaking their chemical structure. By changing the way we grow them, we can tailor them to be more suitable for absorbing light (for a solar panel) or emitting light (for an LED). This allows us to make different colour solar cells and LEDs emitting light from the ultra-violet, right through to the visible and near-infrared.

Despite their cheap and versatile processing, these materials have been shown to be remarkably efficient as both solar cells and light emitters. Perovskite solar cells hit 25.2% efficiency in 2019, hot on the heels of crystalline silicon cells at 26.7%, and perovskite LEDs are already approaching off-the-shelf organic light-emitting diode (OLED) performances.

These technologies are rapidly being commercialised, particularly on the solar cell front. UK-based Oxford Photovoltaics has built a production line and is filling its first purchase orders in early 2021. Polish company Saule Technologies released prototype products at the end of 2018, including a perovskite solar façade pilot. Chinese manufacturer Microquanta Semiconductor expects to produce more than 200,000 square meters of panels in its production line before year-end. The US-based Swift Solar (a company I co-founded) is pioneering high-performance cells with lightweight, flexible properties.

A New Solar and Lighting technology
Coloured perovskite light-emitting inks that can be cast down into thin films. © Sandeep Pathak, Author provided

Between these and other companies, there is rapid progress being made.

Solar windows and flexible panels

Unlike conventional silicon cells, which need to be very uniform for high efficiency, perovskite films are comprised of mosaic “grains” of highly variable size (from nano-meters to millimeters) and chemistry – and yet they perform nearly as well as the best silicon cells today. What’s more, small blemishes or defects in perovskite films do not lead to significant power losses. Such defects would be catastrophic for a silicon panel or a commercial LED.

Although we are still trying to understand this, these materials are forcing the community to rewrite the textbook for what we consider as an ideal semiconductor: they can have very good optical and electronic properties in spite of – or perhaps even because of – disorder.

A New Solar and Lighting technology
Light emitted from mosaic grains in a perovskite film
Light emitted from mosaic grains in a perovskite film. Dane deQuilettes/Sam Stranks

We could hypothetically use these materials to make “designer” coloured solar cells that blend in to buildings or houses, or solar windows that look like tinted glass yet generate power.

But the real opportunity is to develop highly efficient cells beyond the efficiency of silicon cells. For example, we can layer two different coloured perovskite films together in a “tandem” solar cell. Each layer would harvest different regions of the solar spectrum, increasing the overall efficiency of the cell.

Another example is what Oxford PV are pioneering: adding a perovskite layer on top of a standard silicon cell, boosting the efficiency of the existing technology without significant additional cost. These tandem layering approaches could quickly create a boost in efficiency of solar panels beyond 30%, which would reduce both the panel and system costs while also reducing their energy footprint.

These perovskite layers are also being developed to manufacture flexible solar panels that can be processed to roll like newsprint, further reducing costs. Lightweight, high-power solar also opens up possibilities for powering electric vehicles and communication satellites.

For LEDs, perovskites can achieve fantastic colour quality which could lead to advanced flexible display technologies. Perovskites could also give cheaper, higher quality white lighting than today’s commercial LEDs, with the “colour temperature” of a globe able to be manufactured to give cool or warm white light or any desired shade in between. They are also generating excitement as building blocks for future quantum computers, as well as X-Ray detectors for extremely low dose medical and security imaging.

Although the first products are already emerging, there are still challenges. One key issue is demonstrating long-term stability. But the research is promising, and once these are resolved, halide perovskites could truly propel the transformation of our energy production and consumption.

Sam Stranks, Lecturer in Energy and Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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