Decarbonising the global energy grid

03 May 2024
Close collaboration and greater cross-border co‑ordination are needed to support large-scale global energy interconnections, says Omar Al Hashmi, CEO of Taqa’s transmission and distribution business

As the effort to tackle the climate crisis continues, global demand for renewable energy has been increasing. Unfortunately, the windiest and sunniest parts of the world are not necessarily where the need for energy is highest. This is where transmission plays a big role, linking energy generation to energy use as a product of global interconnection, and diversifying production from renewable sources to create a steadier supply of clean power. 

Transporting energy across vast distances is not easy though. From the regulatory complexities of navigating cross-border infrastructure projects to the high costs of financing and the need for long-term planning and advanced technical capabilities, the challenges involved in successfully deploying long-distance transmission projects are varied. Overcoming these challenges is not a single party affair, but requires close collaboration across government, industry and non-governmental organisations. 

We conducted a study with nearly 600 industry experts from across the world who highlighted the pressing need for co-ordinated global action to rapidly develop grid infrastructure. Integrating renewable energy into existing grids was cited by participants as one of the most significant barriers to achieving net-zero objectives, alongside supply chain vulnerabilities and ability to access the required capital.

Multiple challenges

From a technical standpoint, there are multiple considerations when implementing cross-border interconnections. Regions can operate using different technical parameters, such as different voltages or frequencies. Even within the same country, interregional variations can create bottlenecks. Adopting regional or international grid codes could mitigate these issues.

Further challenges emerge when we take trading into account. This is where regulation can act as an enabler, facilitating the flow of electricity between countries. The European Union’s efforts to co-ordinate the design of its member state’s energy markets enables an increasingly smooth transmission of energy across the continent. Alongside this, existing infrastructure is outdated, requiring significant upfront investment to upgrade. Clarity on regulatory requirements and more transparency around plans for grid buildout, derisk funding for capital-intensive mega projects.

Coordinated action is vital for the transfer of energy across borders and access to renewable sources of energy

Positive benefits

Despite these challenges, the upside must be stressed. Integrating power systems across borders has many positive societal benefits, decreasing costs and hence energy bills through economies of scale, increasing energy security and lowering the environmental impact of operations. On the latter more specifically, larger power systems are able to integrate higher shares of variable renewables. Globally, the sun is always shining and the wind blowing somewhere. 

A common element, therefore, emerges: the need for increased cross-border co‑ordination. Whether it is bilateral, multi-lateral or unified, different models of inter-jurisdictional arrangements are needed for large-scale projects to support global energy interconnections. Our Xlinks project, which is using high-voltage direct current (HVDC) for transmission, is a standout example. 

Such projects represent what is needed more in the world, the combination of infrastructure and renewable power across borders, bringing together the public and private sectors for energy security, supply and affordability in an environmentally friendly way. Transporting clean energy using HDVC cables is a crucial step in powering a net-zero and equitable future, and more of this is needed to aid the transition to lower-carbon and prosperous economies. 

Political, technical and market hurdles can be overcome through collaboration and partnerships. Leveraging the collective expertise and resources of governments, regulators and the private sector can help ensure interconnections are developed quickly enough to support the energy transition. Grid buildout takes time. We have the resources required to meet ambitions, but stopping now is not viable. We must continue planning, building and maintaining large-scale infrastructure projects to meet the rising demand.

Coordinated action is vital for the transfer of energy across borders and access to renewable sources of energy. This was the message from Cop28 and the UAE Consensus: to help progress and secure a cleaner, brighter future for us all, we must break down barriers and come together. 


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