Europe Plans a North Sea Grid

Undersea cables will transport wind, hydro, and solar power

3 min read

The European Union hopes to generate a fifth of its electricity from renewable energies by 2020. But that can’t be done unless its member states can easily move that electricity from one country to another. To that end, late last year nine European countries agreed to build a power grid of high-voltage cables under the North Sea. It would be the first multinational grid designed to address the fluctuating nature of green power generation.

The grid will transport energy generated by a mix of wind, solar, and tidal power between Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway (the only non-EU participant), and the United Kingdom to better balance supply and demand. Energy produced at night in UK wind farms, for instance, could be stored in Norway’s hydropower facilities and released the following day. Around 100 gigawatts of offshore wind power are currently planned by European power companies. The UK, in particular, has launched a £100 billion (US $160 billion) program to expand its offshore wind farms, already the world’s biggest at around 1 GW, to as much as 40 GW by 2020.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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