Replacing the bulk of Europe’s power generation from centralised production with solar and wind generation, whilst also replacing fossil fuels in transport, industry and heating through direct and indirect electrification, will require a lot of additional infrastructure. Not least to distribute the 450GW of offshore wind generation.
But not all new infrastructure will be ‘more of the same’. Maturing technologies, such as HVDC and power-to-X can share the load with onshore transmission lines and change the face of the future infrastructure expansion.
To better understand the underlying dynamics and economics of the future infrastructure expansion, EA Energianalyse has on behalf of Ørsted conducted a study of how best to increase transmission capacity. The study models a decarbonisation of Europe towards 2050, based on assumptions derived from the EC’s 1.5 TECH-scenario.
The study finds that combining the offshore wind generation with transmission is the most cost-efficient way to build offshore wind generation in the future. Such multilinked projects result in higher utilisation of the cables leading to a lower unit cost and fewer connection points to the onshore grid are needed. Furthermore, moving a larger share of the transmission offshore reduces demand for onshore infrastructure, leading to fewer communities being impacted by the buildout across Europe. In fact, the study’s modelling results suggest that ‘simple’ offshore transmission lines are no longer the default option after 2030.
Combining offshore transmission with offshore wind generation and eventually developing these into offshore power hubs, will become a more cost-efficient option. This will especially be the case if HVDC follows the same cost-out trajectories as HVAC transmission. This is likely, as the supply chain ramps up and innovation helps reduce the weight of substations and converters.
Towards 2050, a large share of the increased power demand is expected to come from the growing power-to-X sector that will decarbonise large parts of the transport-sector and industry. With future cost reductions from scale, it will be cheaper to produce renewable hydrogen closer to the large wind resources in North west Europe and to then transport the product to the place of demand. This will further reduce the need for onshore transmission buildout as well as reduce the overall investments needed to decarbonise Europe.