Video: Meeting the Transmission Challenge at Power-Gen Europe

If there’s one thing that unites the conventional and renewable energy industries, it’s the need to upgrade and expand the transmission and distribution infrastructure. Global investment in new power plants has fallen because of the dearth of capital for projects. But investments in transmission and distribution systems have been relatively stable.

“If you look at the planning and build-out of new transmission in various markets, in some places it has slowed and in other places it has accelerated,” said Charles Newton of the Newton-Evans Research Company, speaking in a panel at the Power-Gen Europe Conference. “Basically, it’s stayed constant, which says a lot how important the sector is.”

That was one of the themes coming out of the Power-Gen Europe, Power-Grid Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe conferences, co-located in Cologne, Germany earlier this month.

T&D systems all around the world are decaying. Now, at the dawn of the renewable energy revolution, companies are planning for a dramatic overhaul and expansion of those aging grid systems.

Investments include new transmission lines, transformers, storage, analog and digital meters as well as energy management and resource prediction tools. As renewables become a greater part of the electrical generation portfolio, these hardware and software upgrades become more important for managing intermittency and bringing far-away resources to load centers.

Over the coming years, some of the largest investments will happen in the offshore wind space. There are only about 1.5 GW of offshore wind projects installed today but over the next decade, developers are planning to install more than 20-30 GW of projects. Moving that wind-generated electricity to where it is needed will be one of the central challenges in the effort to install so much capacity.

“We are now going further out to sea and the wind farms are getting bigger and bigger…so we will have a need for new, innovative technologies,” said Raphael Görner of the Power Technologies unit of ABB, a major transmission technology provider.

The company is touting its High Voltage DC Light cables as one of the technological solutions to the offshore installation challenge.

Other challenges remain onshore where governments and companies are planning the evolution of the smart grid, which will use renewables to smooth out demand and make consumers more aware of their energy consumption patterns. This could also make operations of existing conventional energy plants more efficient, thus reducing the capital expenditures for utilities.

In order to ensure a stable, cheap supply of electrons from renewables and conventional energies, an aggressive effort to upgrade transmission systems will be needed.

Renewable Energy World Magazine Editor Jackie Jones and I caught up with a few companies at the Power-Gen Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe conferences to talk about why this issue is so important for the development of renewables. For a look at the technological and regulatory hurdles behind this effort, play the video below.

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I am a reporter with, a blog published by the Center for American Progress. I am former editor and producer for, where I contributed stories and hosted the Inside Renewable Energy Podcast. Keep in touch through twitter! My profile name is: Stphn_Lacey

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