The future with Renewable Energy: The North Atlantic Smart Grid

Senior Lecturer in MBA Global Energy and Sustainability Management, Dr Gisele Arruda explores the future with renewable energy.

‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it’, there is no better quote to describe the current world’s context of energy transition. Alan Kay, an American computer scientist born in 1940 that pioneered the so called ‘objective-oriented programming’ paraphrased Denis Gabor in his remarkable Inventing the Future (1963) when saying “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.” This is exactly the case for the current Northern Energy systems.

This is the perfect context to describe the intent of the current changes in the global energy systems and the advances being recently operated in renewable energy systems that raised the concept of the new ‘North Atlantic Energy System’. The concept of this project demonstrates how we can shape the future, how we can forge new pathways through integration and innovation.

In essence, the project tries to balance energy security and decarbonisation proposing a new system of energy solutions to the northern countries, Scotland, UK and Europe. The North Atlantic Energy Network project (NAEN) investigates and evaluates how isolated energy systems in the North Atlantic can be connected to form a smart electrical grid connecting, via sub-sea cables, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Shetland, Norway, Scotland and Mainland EU. This project reaffirms the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that Kay’s and Gabor’s meant when referring to futures able to be shaped. This initiative consists in the integrated use of the countries’ diverse energy potential to achieve the common goal of green growth, decarbonisation and energy security. It reveals the capacity to adapt and create solutions by improving pre-existent resources in the benefit of all, under a profound synergic cooperation that can operate real changes in the near future not only in relation to the Paris Climate Change agreement targets, but also in terms of applying a new business model for the region. The new renewables system challenges the energy system, its traditional business model and the future stability of the global traditional energy management systems.

The central actor in this initiative is Iceland that now produces about 18 TWh of electricity per year and could have the potential to double the production from geothermal and hydropower alone. The North Atlantic Energy System highlights the potential for Iceland and Faroe Islands to export renewable energy to electricity markets in the UK, Norway and connect to the wider European grid. Cable routes from Iceland to the UK are currently being considered and Faroe Islands also have an interest in securing a supply of renewable energy from Iceland. The Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission’s (SHE-T) system intends to develop a 600 MW transmission cable between Shetland and the UK national grid and the Shetland to UK interconnector project focuses on using Shetland’s exceptional wind resource. The subsea cable technology required to build interconnectors in the North Atlantic already exists. The proposed subsea cable between Iceland and the UK, is the most advanced initiative in the North Atlantic context in terms of renewable energy.

The First Minister Nicholas stressed in her speech that Scotland and Iceland share “ties of trade, culture and kinship which go back for centuries” and the importance of cooperation among neighbours to achieve common goals. The potential exists and the project is feasible because it is technically possible to connect all of the neighbouring countries around Iceland with subsea cables, despite the challenges to be addressed like cost sharing, integration of markets, infrastructure, political barriers, legislation, policy development and popular support through public awareness. This initiative seems to depend on the best synergies between planned and existing platforms, by enabling large-scale renewables projects. The relevance of this is enormous, considering the positive impacts of offshore electrification, future integration of the north to the European market, representing the green battery to Europe and its achievement of the 2030-targets, highly advocated by Ban-Ki Moon in his speech when he expressed the importance of ‘partnerships for the common good, and protection of our common home’. He also urged nations to follow the guidelines of the actions required by the Paris Agreement, by the 17 goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and by the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

The speed of changes and the uncertainty intrinsic to them makes it hard to understand what reality we will face in 10- 20 years into the future, considering the combination of climatic changes, energy demand, pollution, industrial activity, environmental impacts and societal behaviour. This unpredictability makes it crucial to develop means to enhance the understanding, assessment and decision-making process by engaging society in this debate. This is our intent with the new programme of MBA Global Energy and Sustainability Management at Coventry University London Campus.