Gobi Wind Gives Asian Super Grid A Place To Start

The “Asian Super Grid” floated in and quickly out of the green energy discussion earlier this year, seemingly just another lovely concept either too hopeful or too far off to warrant sustained consideration. But it’s back, and with Masayoshi Son involved, we might want to pay attention.

Son – the dude who founded Softbank and knows more than a little bit about making bold plays – is pushing the idea forward toward implementation, or at least the beginnings of implementation. SB Energy, the renewable energy subsidiary of Softbank, has agreed to work with the Mongolian company Newcom to select a site for a 300 megawatt wind farm that could be up and running by 2014 (which sounds like a long way off, but, holy cow, is actually just 14 months away).

The Gobi Desert (image via Desertec Foundation/Jonathan Kos-Read)

Ultimately, the goal is to have wind farms offering perhaps as much as 7,000 MW of energy-producing capacity in the Gobi Desert. Then, in the same way that the Desertec Foundation – which is working on the Asian Super Grid with Son’s Japan Renewable Energy Foundation — envisions North Africa’s and the Mediterranean’s vast solar potential hooking in with Europe, Mongolian wind power would hook in with Japan, Korea and China.

Transmission would be costly, both financially and in terms of efficiency, but planners imagine low-loss, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines. And there’s an upside to a wide grid: It makes integration of renewables easier, by allowing intermittent energy to find a buyer, which can help avoid costly energy storage or curtailment issues.

Son has been advocating for renewables since the Fukishima disaster, and he’s been putting his money where his mouth is. He has plans to build 10 of what are often termed “megasolar” plants, seven of which are either built or well on their way.

By U.S. standards most of them aren’t that big – those seven will add up to 256.5 MW, just slightly more than the capacity of the Agua Caliente plant by itself in Arizona – but then again, Japan doesn’t have the wide open sun-splashed spaces of the Southwest. There is a 200-MW Hokkaido plant on the drawing board, but even with that, Son’s thinking is that Japan needs a bigger net to catch the clean energy it will rely on post-nukes.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.