The scientific foundation of the Intrenex energy system

How does the work of Dr.-Ing. Dipl.-Phys. Gregor Czisch relate to the concept of INTRENEX?

Dr. Gregor Czisch was working at the Institut für Elektrische Energietechnik /Rationelle Energiewandlung in Kassel (Germany) in 2001 and started to use computers to analyse if and where there was a possibility to supply Europe with electrical energy from 100% renewables. Until that time proponents of renewable energy were proclaiming that this was possible but there had not been a proven approach how this should be accomplished in practice.

The data Dr. Czisch used were weather and geological data that was available in a sort of a grid structure for Europe, Eurasia and Africa. These datasets include yearly variations on a daily basis so the energy potential from different regions could be calculated for some sort of an exemplary year round. At the time of 2001 this weather data had been available in several different data systems covering several different meteorological and geological organisations.

On top of the atmospherical and geological datasets a consumption dataset for the entire region was put that consisted of regionally and temporarily obtained electrical energy consumption patterns whereas the earth system data resembled potential energy sources to be tapped in to provide for the required consumption.

As it is clear that renewable energy can not always be produced where the consumers are, a numerical optimisation strategy was used to place energy harvesting systems at locations of the area where the possibly lowest price for the obtained electricity was to be reached with the least effort of building additional infrastructure to distribute the electricity to the consumers.

One form of additional infrastructure available for the optimisation model was a system of HVDC lines connecting different area of energy production to other areas of energy consumption. This technology already was well developed in 2001 and is even better developed today and is increasingly being adopted to transport large amounts of electrical energy via large distances at a very low loss.

The electric grid that covers the world today has mainly been built to distribute relatively locally produced electricity to nearby consumers and as the AC technology was used the losses were kept low by transforming the electricity to higher voltages so that the resistant loss of the transmission line is kept small. Our grid was not designed for long distance transmission in the first place as it was of course more economical to produce the electricity in vicinity to the consumers.

As with the result of the numerical optimisations it transpired that quite long distances were to be crossed to transmit energy from the best energy harvesting locations to the consumers, the use of HVDC lines was allowed for the optimisation strategy to obtain the best results. The first results already showed that a 100% renewable energy supply for Europe was possible. These were subsequently published in academic papers as early as 2001.

The grid structure that emerged is often labeled as “Supergrid” as it will be operated some sort of “on top” of our existing grid. Some of our existing grid might be upgraded to the new Supergrid structure so that only a few of the new grid edges might have to be cut through precious landscapes.

As it also transpired that different boundary conditions lead to interestingly different results, a summary of different scenarios was put together that constitutes the thesis of Dr. Gregor Czisch and could have been used as a means for political decision making processes that are related to energy security and climate change as early as 2001. This (publicly available) thesis is the foundation of the INTRENEX energy system.

If we started applying these results in 2001, we could be finished with this transition today already.

The numerical optimisation strategy used by the computer is called „Kraftwerks–Einsatz–und–Auswahl–Planung“ and it was using a strategy as to select for each time interval the best combination of available resources to supply the momentarily required consumption level at any time possible. It is important that the optimisation was applying temporal factors in such way that the maximal annually possible electricity was to be obtained from the available location so that the lowest price per kWh could be obtained depending on different capital requirements for different generation technologies that best fitted the atmospherical and geological patterns in a certain location.

The numerical optimisation strategy was running without any human interference thus creating the best „technically achievable“ result without human disturbance and to create reproducible results for each subsequent run (scientific approach).

The base scenario („Grundszenario (GrSz)“) that was run had all options available from wind to solar, geothermal, photovoltaics, hydropower, biomass and the like including long distance HVDC transmission over any distance (of course optimised by more losses incurred at longer distance). This scenario resulted in the lowest capital costs and thus the lowest energy costs in €ct/kWh, namely 4,65 €ct/kWh (in 2005).

Using different boundary conditions (“scenarios”), a large number of different results was obtained. These also include model runs for decreasing PV costs (by halve, quarter, eighth) or by using experimental technology as the „down-wind power-plant“ or plasma-fusion power-plants. Other scenarios were run to allow or forbid electricity exchange across Africa or Eurasia or by allowing borderless electricity transport or restricted amounts of regional electricity exchange between regions. Another set of results was obtained allowing for a certain amount of fossil fuel electricity generation as there exists a substantial amount of capital invested in these technologies and they will certainly not simply be shut off but there might exist a reasonable use of this existing infrastructure in some sort of transitioning phase to 100% renewable energy supply. Of course also the question was answered if fossil fuelled power plants can have a substantial impact on the achievable end price. It came out that yes, with the use of fossil fuels a low price could be achieved for the moment but it was not calculated what the external costs of this technology were (climate change) and how long the resources will be available at what possible price.

Most of the numerical optimisation runs that restricted some of the optimisation possibilities in some way or another resulted in a more or less higher end prices than the base scenario.

The model region to be used was so large that it really was able to produce 100% renewable energy at the lowest price possible. Due to the effect of regional levelling out of intermittency problems as well as seasonal differences over the year, the region of the optimisation model consists of 69 countries in and around Europe and northern Africa with roughly 1,1 billion people.

The INTRENEX enterprise picks up the data that is publicly available from Dr. Czisch’s thesis since a long time ago and aims at implementing a renewable electricity generation and transmission network for the entire region of 69 countries and 1,1 billion people to supply them at 100% with the cheapest possible renewable energy building up this system in the shortest time possible.

Since 2005 a bit of traction for these scientific findings has been lost as there exists the desertec foundation and the MEDGRID initiative that have captured a bit of media echo but desertec has somewhat left the strict path of the numerically obtained results and promotes a lot more than the optimal amount of concentrated solar power (CSP) and Photovoltics (PV). That is due to some political factors in the organisation of desertec but will result in an overall higher price as the optimal results obtained from the optimisation showed that solar concentrated power might only be used in moderate amounts and that PV in the region of northern Europe is uneconomical and was not applied by the optimisation strategy.

That PV in northern Europe still is being promoted is a political problem that has no basis what so ever in a sober cost optimisation that was used by the numerical optimisation even when the model was run at much lower cost for PV modules than we have today (1300 €/kW). Only when a sixth of today’s prices would be achieved, a small amount of PV was used by the optimisation process. A price decrease of that much for PV is not in sight for the near future. It is true that prices for PV have gone down a large amount from the year 2000 to 2010 but actually have been pretty flat around 1300 €/kW for the last three years although the largest amount of PV has actually been installed in the last three years.

Dr. Czisch has actually been working together with the desertec foundation but left it as there were political differences between the optimum energy supply system proposed from the numerical optimisation (wind energy) and the political interest of desertec of promoting concentrated solar power as main means of production. Since then desertec has failed in maintaining a conglomerate of different very large industry firms called the desertec industrial initiative (dii) as it transpired that their model was uneconomical. INTRENEX is in no way linked to the desertec organisation.

For wind-power the optimisation found the following: “eight of the North African Sahara countries have each a wind potential that is more than sufficient to produce the amount of electric energy that the entire EU and the whole of Africa require. One of them can even offer a potential of almost four times this on its own. However, since a large-scale international electricity supply should have a redundant and diversified structure, which is also the result of the optimization for the scenarios, only a modest fraction of the local potentials would be needed to meet the totally renewable international electricity supply.” (Dr. Czisch)

INTRENEX picks up the public results of these numerical optimisations and aims at really producing and transmitting energy from the best locations in Europe, Eurasia and northern Africa at the lowest price possible.

INTRENEX also figured out that the transition to 100% renewable energy supply is not easliy achievable with good results from a credit based financing model. As it was tried for the last 20 years and did not succeed as the credit costs simply were to high and the investment sums are very large. Today, as it is obvious that credit costs are virtually zero and a large sum might be obtained by using credit as a means of finance, some sort of „proof of concept“ first has to be created so that institutional investors can better judge the financial environment for the reality of such a transition. That is why at least for the foreseeable future INTRENEX this time tries a cooperative swarm financing model to get across a certain threshold that shows that such a transition is not only technically possible (as it has already been with the technologies available in 2005) but also practically achievable for some sort of large exemplary installations across the region envisioned.

The end result for this transition will of course not exactly be like one that was theoretically obtained from the numerical optimisations as the reality in the last 12 years has brought forward a substantial investment in renewable energy inside Europe that will of course stay in place for the foreseeable future. These renewable energy installations have been built even as not all of these investments are the most economically viable ones because there existed a political pressure for subsidies and no political and economic courage to engage in a strategically planned power system refurbishing that is required for the numerically obtained optimum power transmission system.

New fossil fuelled powered plants also have been built despite the fact that they should not have been built in favour of renewables but the energy hunger of the region is growing at a breath taking speed and the growth model of our society simply delivers when there is a need for more energy, regardless of the consequences.

INTRENEX is operated basesd on the thesis by Dr. Czisch, but what INTRENEX “says” (on this website or Facebook for example) does not necessarily represent the words of Dr. Czisch. INTRENEX is a modern approach to put into practice his works by an engineer in supply technology, namely Marc Muncke. We are talking about the project but Dr. Czisch does currently not have an active role in INTRENEX. That might change in the future. When Dr. Czisch is being cited, it will explicitly be mentioned in the texts.

For a more detailed insight into the problems related to a renewable energy supply system for Europe and beyond, it is highly recommended to read this interview wit Dr. G. Czisch. It highlights some common misunderstandings about the German Energiewende:

Interview with Dr. G. Czisch pt.1
Interview with Dr. G. Czisch pt.2