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Weak Grids Expose Risks for the Electrification of Everything By Rachel Morison Feb 21, 2021
 

Home heating systems shutting down. Hospitals facing water shortages. Oil refineries going offline.

The freezing, snowy weather in Texas exposed how quickly an energy system can be brought down and how widespread the chaos can be. That raises questions about the vulnerability of power grids around the world just as more parts of our everyday lives electrify.

Grid operators model the reliability of their systems to handle harsh weather, and climate change is triggering more of those events at both ends of the thermometer. Electrifying sectors such as transportation and heating is considered vital for reducing the emissions contributing to global warming, yet the grids may not be able to handle the load.

“The risks for power consumers are rising as the typical home electrifies an increasing share of its energy consumption,” said Sanjeet Sanghera, a London-based energy analyst with BloombergNEF. “You are putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Global demand for electrons is set to surge 60% by 2050, according to BNEF, as electric vehicles, smart devices and the Internet of Things become more commonplace. BNEF estimates that global investment in grid infrastructure could increase to $28.7 trillion during that time to support a tripling in renewable capacity. That amount is larger than the U.S. gross domestic product.

The challenge facing policy makers is how to make that spending palatable to customers. In Britain, network charges already make up 22% of power bills.

It’s estimated Europe will need to spend $4.9 trillion on its grids, with about 45% of that just for strengthening what’s already there.

The continent’s biggest economy, Germany, is targeting 10 million EVs on the roads by 2030, a push that could raise overall electricity demand by 10%, said Andreas Loeschel, professor of energy economics at the University of Muenster.

China is the world’s biggest EV market, and the power network is trying to keep those cars running. State Grid Corp. of China, which operates the infrastructure for more than 80% of the country, spent 2.43 trillion yuan ($376 billion) on projects the past five years and is earmarking another $350 billion through 2025. The world’s second-biggest economy wants to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

“There’s going to be a significant ramp-up in complexity because of more connection points that will be needed and also more demand,” said Gerhard Salge, chief technology officer at Hitachi ABB Power Grids Ltd., the world’s biggest installer.

The crisis in Texas highlights weaknesses in the U.S. network that need fixing to help achieve President Joe Biden’s goal of an emissions-free power system by 2035. A study commissioned by trade association WIRES before these outages said as much as $600 billion in spending will be required by 2050.

It’s difficult to assess how much investment is enough. Calls are growing for the industry to change its modeling for weather disruptions and its planning to address them.

Sub-zero temperatures are rare in Texas, and the recent arctic blast wreaked havoc with wind turbine blades freezing, power plants shutting down, and liquid oil and gas solidifying in pipelines and wells.

In Texas’s Black-Swan Blackout, Everything Went Wrong at Once

Demand records in Europe were broken this month as frosty weather clamped down on several countries, but there were no blackouts. One reason: gas is used more widely for heating than electricity, so the load is spread across a different network.



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Source: www.bloomberg.com
 
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