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It seems so simple, in theory.  Just tap the excess solar energy in the baking deserts of the world.  Move it to the high-energy-demand population centers hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles away.

And replace the fossil-fuels being consumed there, by the multitudes, with clean renewable energy footprints, waiting to be harvested. Displace those carbon-based footprints, that are slowly turning our "goldilocks" planet Earth into an eventually hell, like planet Venus -- the apex of CO2-driven Greenhouses, that we've seen in the solar system.  There are reasons Venus is hotter than Mercury (even though it's twice as far from the Sun), you know ... It's called CO2, carbon dioxide, a planet's heat trapping blanket ... but I digress.

Carbon-based fuels Be-Gone!  So simple in theory, but so insurmountable in practice,  ... or is it?   Our Europeans counterparts, don't really think so ...

THE Desertec CONCEPT and Desertec-UK

Clean power from deserts

The Desertec Foundation (formerly the 'TREC' international network of scientists and engineers), in association with the Club of Rome, has developed the Desertec concept, described below, to take advantage of the truly enormous quantities of energy falling as sunlight on the world's deserts -- and wind energy in those regions too. Now the Desertec Industrial Initiative, a consortium of blue-chip companies, has been formed to make it happen, and the Desertec University Network has been established to promote Desertec-related research and teaching.

The Desertec concept

For a summary, click Desertec in brief.

Every year, each square kilometre of desert receives solar energy equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of oil. Multiplying by the area of deserts worldwide, this is several hundred times as much energy as the world uses in a year.

larger image

The larger red square on the left shows an area of 114,090 km2 of desert (about 338 km × 338 km [210 miles  × 210 miles] ) that, if covered with concentrating solar power plants, would provide as much electricity as the world is now using. (Of course, the world's CSP plants would never be put all together in one square like that). The 'EU' square (19,200 km2 or about 139 × 139 km  [86.3 miles2] ) shows a corresponding area for the European Union (when it included 25 countries). And the 'MENA' square (3,600 km2 or 60 km × 60 km  [37.2 miles2] ) shows the corresponding area for the Middle East and North Africa.

[Concentrating Solar Power Plant in desert.]

If only there were some sort of technology that could easily transport those carbon-free "footprints" of sunlight, just there for the taking -- to the urban areas that just can't get enough of it.  Transport it, without losing much of that clean, renewable energy, in the process of moving it.  Growing Economies need their fuel.

Fortunately there is a way.  It's called High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC).  (PS. it sure beats transporting of those alternative "barrels" of energy in those petro-tanker truck fleets, and endless coal-laden train-car parades.)


Clean power from deserts

Here are some of the benefits of transmission grids, especially large-scale HVDC grids described below:

 * Accessing sources of renewable energy.  Without a transmission grid, it would not be possible to take advantage of the large amounts of energy that may be obtained from large-scale but remote sources of renewable electricity such as wave farms, offshore wind farms, tidal lagoons, and tidal stream generators -- and concentrating solar power!

 * Opening up new sources of energy.   A related point is that a large-scale transmission grid can open up entirely new sources of energy that might not otherwise be considered. For example, there is potential to Import geothermal energy into the UK from Iceland via a submarine HVDC transmission line.

 * Sharing of large-scale storage facilities. Large-scale storage facilities, such as pumped-storage systems in Norway and the Alps, may be widely shared.

By way of comparison to those European Desertec plans, the US Smart Grid page is long on flashy graphics, but short on actual plans for expanding our Superhighway HVDC Grid.

There is no shortage of US Solar and Wind projects -- creating those "Renewable Energy Footprints" ...

... Just an apparent shortage of plans to efficiently move that captured surplus energy from point A (the deserts and mountains) ... to point B (our cities and homes).

If only the planet could wait ... for us to get our 21st century act together ...

Fortunately the USA does have some experience with building and maintaining and even upgrading HDVC grid lines.  HDVC has long been used to "transport" the abundant Hydropower of the Pacific Northwest all the way to Los Angeles CA, almost a thousand miles away.

Pacific DC Intertie -- Wikipedia

Intertie: an interconnection permitting passage of current between two or more electric utility systems.

The Pacific DC Intertie (also called Path 65) is an electric power transmission line that transmits electricity from the Pacific Northwest to the Los Angeles area using high voltage direct current (HVDC). The line capacity is 3,100 megawatts, which is enough to serve two to three million Los Angeles households and is 48.7% of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) electrical system's peak capacity.[1]

The intertie originates near the Columbia River at the Celilo Converter Station on Bonneville Power Administration's grid outside The Dalles, Oregon and is connected exclusively to the Sylmar Converter Station north of Los Angeles, which is owned by five utility companies and managed by LADWP. The Intertie is capable of transmitting power in either direction, but power on the Intertie flows mostly from north to south.

Caption:  The Pacific Intertie outside Benton, CA, near the CA/NV border. 500,000 Volts DC, 7,200 Amps, up to 3.6 Gigawatts (3,600 MW). Needs VERY long insulators.

The Pacific Intertie consists of:[3]

    The Celilo Converter Station which converts three phase 60 Hz AC at 235 to 525 kV to ±500 kV DC [on the Columbia River, in Oregon]

A 1,362-kilometre (846 mi) overhead transmission line consisting of two uninsulated conductors each 1,171 mm2 in cross sectional area, containing a steel wire core for strength.

The Sylmar Converter Station [a northern LA suburb] which converts DC to AC (a process also called inverting) and phase-synchronized with the L.A. power grid.

The combined wires have a capacity of 2 gigawatts in bipolar mode and 1.55 gigawatts with earth (ground) return.

In 2004, Sylmar East station was upgraded from 1,100 MW to 3,100 MW (rededicated as the Sylmar Converter Station in 2005).

China is leading the charge, among several other forward-looking nations, who have been using HVDC power grids to move their clean energy production from the place it's captured to the place it's needed.  No matter the distance.

Using HVDC Technology For Transmitting Electricity

by Edvard, -- Mar 5 2012

An alternate means of transmitting electricity is to use high-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology. As the name implies, HVDC uses direct current to transmit power. [...]

Although synchronous HVAC transmission is normally preferred because of its flexibility, historically there have been a number of applications where HVDC technology has advantages:

1) The need to transmit large amounts of power (>500 mW) over very long distances ( >500 km  [310 miles] ), where the large electrical angle across long HVAC transmission lines (due to their impedances) would result in an unstable system.

Examples of this application [HVDC transmission lines] are

the 1,800 mW Nelson River Project, where the transmission delivers the power to Winnipeg, Canada, approximately 930 km away;

the 3,000 mW system from the Three Gorges project to Shanghai in China, approximately 1,000 km distant;

and the 1,456 km long, 1,920 mW line from the Cabora Bassa project in Mozambique to Apollo, in South Africa.

In the United States the 3,100 mW Pacific HVDC Intertie (PDCI) connects the Pacific Northwest (Celilo Converter Station) with the Los Angeles area (Sylmar Converter Station) by a 1,361 km line.

And even the USA has another HVDC transmission line to Los Angeles. But it is moving Carbon-based Electricity production from Utah, all the way to California, which kind of seems like of waste of those "low loss" long-distance transmission lines (in terms of reducing our carbon footprints, that is).  

Trading Carbon for Carbon -- that's so last century.

The Intermountain HVDC transmission

The second HVDC transmission to Los Angeles.

The Intermountain HVDC transmission system operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) brings power from a coal-fired station in Utah to the Los Angeles area. The original rated power was 1,600 MW at ±500 kV DC. Subsequently the link has been upgraded to 1,920 MW, and an additional upgrade to 2,400 MW has now been implemented.

Commissioning year:     1986, 2010

Power rating:     1,920 MW => 2,400 MW

No. of poles:    2

AC voltage:      345 kV (Intermountain),
                      500 kV (Adelanto)

DC voltage:       ±500 kV

Length of overhead DC line:    785 km

Main reason for choosing HVDC:    Long distance  


Fortunately for us future-oriented Americans, a California Power company is taking their state's Renewable mandate quite seriously.  They have taken real far-sighted steps to feed-in, more clean energy sources into that high capacity HVDC "carbon pipeline" from Utah:

Upgrading the Intermountain HVDC Project to handle 480 MW additional Wind Power (pdf)

Mohammed J. Beshir
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Hans Bjorklund


The Intermountain Power Project, Southern Transmission System (IPP STS) was built in the early 80’s and commissioned in 1986 to bring power from a 1600 MW coal-fired generating plant in Utah to Southern California. [...]

To advance California’s environmental policies, in 2005 Los Angeles initiated an aggressive renewable resource development program to reach a 20% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by 2010. One possible source for additional renewable resources was the wind power potential of southern Utah. To be able to bring such power into the Los Angeles area the [Intermountain Power Project] IPP HVDC link provided a very interesting opportunity as well as a challenge.


LADWP Power System

The LADWP is the largest municipal utility in the United States serving over 4 million residents in Southern California with electricity and water. [...]

The LADWP’s maximum system peak demand is approximately 6,200 MW. Presently, LADWP has over 7,200 MW of generation capacity with annual energy production of approximately 25,000 GWh. In 2010 the LADWP’s energy mix consisted of approximately coal (40%), natural gas (25%), large hydro (6%), nuclear (9%), and renewables (20%). Approximately 70% of this energy is produced outside the Los Angeles basin and imported to the city using LADWP’s transmission system.

The LADWP has an extensive transmission network extending over several states in the western United States that imports the majority of LADWP’s energy needs. As shown in Figure 1, the external system consists of long distance 500 kV HVAC and HVDC lines and coal-fired, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. LADWP jointly or individually owns over 4,600 miles of HVAC and HVDC transmission lines.

Figure 1 LADWP's External System -- larger image

LADWP RPS1 and Transmission Development Plan

Most electric power providers in the United States have RPS policies or goals [Renewable Portfolio Standard] that define the level of renewable resource in percentage of their energy sales to their customers that they will be supplying to their electric customers at a given target date. LADWP’s present RPS goal is 20% by 2010 and 33% by 2020. The 20% by 2010 goal is already met and LADWP is currently working on the 33% goal by 2020.

The LADWP plans to meet its RPS goals through the acquisition and development of various types of eligible renewable resources. This includes wind, geothermal, solar, and biomass (including landfill and digester gas power generation). Figure 2 depicts the various renewable resources that LADWP has potential access to. Depicted in Figure 2 are also the transmission components that are part of the development plan to support the delivery of renewable resources to the Los Angeles basin.

Figure 2 LADWP Renewable Development Plan -- larger image

Wind resources development is a major component of LADWP’s RPS program [Renewable Portfolio Standard]. Three key regions where the LADWP is engaged in the development of wind resources are the Tehachapi in Southern California, Southern Wyoming and Utah, and Mid Colombia River in the State of Washington. Barren Ridge Renewable Transmission Project (BRRTP), the STS Upgrade, and the Pacific DC Intertie (PDCI), respectively, are directly connected to these wind development activities. The focus of this paper is the integration of the wind resources in Utah to the STS Upgrade Project.


The upgrade of the IPP HVDC link is a first example of how an existing HVDC link that was primarily designed for bulk power transfer can be successfully converted to also handle a substantial amount of highly fluctuating renewable wind power. With the large amount of wind farms being installed and planned around the world there will definitely be more examples were similar adaptations will also need to be performed.

The IPP upgrade also exhibits a clever way to utilize all the inherent overload capability to actually increase the rating of a 25 year old HVDC link by 25%.

So it CAN be done.  We can trade our old-school Carbon Footprints for more Renewable ones.

It just takes work, and planning, and technology, and some infrastructure upgrading. For 21st century needs.

But isn't the final result, going to be worth that extra effort and cost?  

The cost of doing Nothing, will far exceed whatever the price of building a national super-highway 21st century grid will take.

The benefits of taking action, are that we will be building the Jobs of the Future, in the process; and we will be taking action against creating another run-away Greenhouse planet, otherwise known as, Venus' dim-bulb brother.  

Europe gets it.  China gets it.  Los Angeles Power gets it.  But the rest of Oil-saturated America? ... we can only continue to hope ... continue to demand action, whenever we get a chance.

Now if only some of the nagging Techie problems that go along with a HVDC Grid could be solved ... wait a second, maybe they can be ... traded for Solutions too:

The Secret to HVDC Grids: ABB Unveils HVDC Circuit Breaker
by Katherine Tweed, -- November 9, 2012

Ingenuity will find a way ... because frankly, we must.  

We've only got one world -- isn't it long past time we start acting like it?

Started trading some of our old carbon tracks, for the new trail supergrid called hope?

It's only the common-sense.  To set out sights on trading real problems, for actual solutions.

Originally posted to Digging up those Facts ... for over 8 years. on Sun Nov 18, 2012 at 04:40 PM PST.

Also republished by Kosowatt.

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