An in-depth study by the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) into a transcontinental electricity link has mapped three potential routes, in a hypothetical scenario that tries to balance maximum renewable energy exploitation with avoiding conflict zones and harsh terrain.
The idea was first floated by the Chinese in 2016 as part of its Belt and Road development strategy, as one solution to dealing with industrial overcapacity and exporting growing engineering expertise. But it is the JRC that has delved into the detail of the project.
Its comprehensive study reveals that the link could cost anything between €15 billion and €28 billion depending on the chosen route, how many countries are crossed and if pricey underwater cables are needed. Even cheaper overhead cables come in at roughly €2 million per kilometre.
Although the idea is currently consigned to the back pages of the report, it raises legitimate questions about how to connect regions rich in clean energy potential to areas of the world that sorely need to cut their reliance on fossil fuels and still meet high energy demands.
Hydro, solar and wind power are all viable options in many of the countries of Central Asia and thanks to relatively sparse populations, investment in capacity and infrastructure could make the region an energy exporter and go some way to meeting commitments made in the Paris Agreement, the report says.
The Mission of China to the EU told EURACTIV that “all research work and other kinds of efforts initiated by the European side with the purpose of exploring potential cooperation areas” was welcome.
China continues to build renewable energy capacity in quantities that far outstrip Europe. The Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River is still the largest hydroelectric power station in the world and its solar capacity topped 100GW last year, smashing a 2020 target three years early.