Recently, the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed upon the European Union. The reasoning was that the (now 21 member) union has been building peace and reconciliation for more than 60 years. The economic gains that come from this union demonstrate that Europe is better off united than divided. It's interesting to note that this award arrives at the same time Europe faces the deepest economic crisis in its history. Of course, crises can either bring us together or push us apart, but there is nothing like a crisis to bring about change.

Today we have our own energy crisis. The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in Japan has brought about dramatic global change, and the shakeout quite possibly could be the catalyst for a reordering of our energy universe.

Consider that both Germany and Japan are shutting down their nuclear plants. At present, Japan is working to curtail load while keeping all other sources of generation operating at maximum capacity. Germany, with an interconnected grid, has the opportunity to import energy from neighboring countries as its nuclear plants are taken off-line.

Looking into our global energy future, I would like to share a few insights I picked up at the 2012 CIGRÉ event held this past August in Paris, France.

With a worldwide focus on high-voltage systems, CIGRÉ drew the highest attendance in its history. And by adding working groups in the smart grid space, CIGRÉ is leading our industry into a future where a truly integrated grid will be essential if we are to meet our energy needs. We are also seeing an increase in cross-border power transactions, which require more sophisticated tracking, tagging and billing systems.

Energy Economy

The keynote speaker at CIGRÉ was Liu Zhenya, president of the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC). He spoke on the need to build intercontinental transmission highways to enable optimization of global energy resources.

Liu Zhenya listed the driving forces behind the need for intercontinental transmission highways. First is the need to optimize global energy resources. He stated that we must continue to take advantage of conventional generation while we develop our renewable energy resources.

Second is the need to scale energy allocation. Liu Zhenya acknowledged that with significant distances between energy sources and load centers, we need to balance energy flows, even across continents, to allow us to produce and consume energy economically on a global scale.

Third, Liu Zhenya recognized that all participants must benefit if we are to build the energy platforms from which we can deliver intercontinental bulk electricity.

Liu Zhenya's recommendation that we build an intercontinental electric highway from Asia to Europe is based partially on Germany's commitment to close down all nuclear generation within 10 years. In that generation must come from somewhere, why not Asia?

While at CIGRÉ, I also had the opportunity to talk with Andrey Shishkin, the deputy minister of energy of the Russian Federation and now vice president for electricity with Rosneft Oil Co. Shishkin discussed the role of energy in the Russian economy and shared ideas to increase Russian energy exports.

At present, Russia is the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, but Russia can play a bigger part. An east-to-west 1,150-kV line exists (but is inactive) within the Russian Federation of Independent States. This line could be activated to export green energy electricity from hydro plants in Russia to Europe and, in particular, Germany. This line also could be used to transport coal by wire from Kazakhstan to Europe.

You also might not know that Russia spans nine time zones. This footprint allows Russia the potential of building HVDC lines with undersea links to bring hydro power to Japan.

Both China and Russia are looking at ways to transport energy by wire to generate revenue for their countries while meeting energy needs in Europe and Japan. Both countries have tremendous experience in building out extra-high-voltage lines across vast distances. And both countries are willing and able to invest in their energy infrastructure.

Having visited major transmission and distribution utilities in both countries within the past few years, I can tell you that Russia and China have depth and expertise, the energy resources and the desire to deliver energy east and west.

These global shifts in energy are more than individual country strategies. These shifts are being driven by global companies and by companies that intend to compete globally.

We all know that envisioning bold steps is quite different than accomplishing them. These bold steps Russia and China are now proposing must be embraced in Europe and in Japan if they are to move forward.

I'd like to conclude with Liu Zhenya's closing comments: “The SGCC is ready to join hands to address world power and energy issues and create a sustainable future for economy, community and environment.”