Renewable energy sector players have welcomed the European Commission’s Action Plan tabled this week (28 November) designed to upgrade grids, but said it lacks detail and guidance on how to effectively deliver efficient electricity transmission by 2030.
With electricity consumption expected to increase around 60% by 2030, and an expected surge of renewable energy in the energy mix, the EU executive tabled the Plan, which foresees €584bn in investment, to modernize the bloc’s electricity grids. Most of the investment is targeted at digitalising the distribution grid, setting-up real-time monitoring, and cybersecurity defence practices.
Unlike existing EU rules for distribution grids, the Action Plan targets distribution networks for the first time, and features 14 actions to revamp infrastructure more than 40 years old — accounting for 40% of the EU’s distribution grids — and to optimise EU electricity transmission and distribution grids.
In order to meet its renewable energy target of 42.5% in the total EU energy mix, EU wind and solar power generation capacity must increase from 400 GW in 2022 to at least 1,000 GW by 2030, including the expansion of offshore renewables up to 317 GW by 2050, the Commission said. Moreover, the future of Europe’s electricity transmission and distribution networks must take into account planning and operation of the new hydrogen infrastructure, energy storage, charging infrastructure for e-mobility and CO2 infrastructure.
“Grids need to be an enabler, not a bottleneck in the clean energy transition. That way we can integrate the vast amounts of renewables, electric vehicles, heat pumps and electrolysers that are needed to decarbonise our economy,” said Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy.
More regulatory clarity
The solar and wind industry welcomed the Commission’s plan but called for the publication of clear and swift guidance to help speed up grid connection. Naomi Chevillard, head of regulatory affairs at SolarPower Europe, said the regulatory framework was “ambiguous” and sought more clarity on rules for storage taxation or treatment of stored renewable electricity. Giles Dickson, WindEurope CEO, welcomed a “good plan” that recognizes the need to invest in power grids for the energy transition but cited concerns about the huge queues of wind and solar that have applied for a grid connection. “Filter out the speculative projects and prioritise the good ones,” Dickson said, adding that the Plan lacks detail on how EU countries should reserve grid capacity for strategic net-zero technologies.
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, an NGO, applauded the Commission’s commitment to integrate greater shares of renewables into the grid and to address bottlenecks jeopardizing the deployment of solar and wind power. But the initiative suffers from a “few missed opportunities” and features “one alarming element”, CAN Europe stated, referring to the Commission’s assumption of a sharp increase in electricity consumption of 60% between today and 2030.
“There is no mention of utilising the full potential of energy savings and reducing energy demand. This is crucial, as the increased integration of renewables into the grid must be matched with less demand for that energy, in order to achieve an energy system that is fully dependent on renewable energy alone,” Marta Anczewska, Energy System Policy Expert at CAN Europe told Euronews.
As part of the Plan, the EU executive is proposing a set of measures including to speed up the implementation of Projects of Common Interest (PCI), a measure that helps bring the EU’s energy infrastructure in line with its climate goals. Recently, Italy and Tunisia were awarded €307 mn to link via undersea cable the vast electricity systems of Europe and North Africa.
The Plan also seeks to improve the long-term planning of grids — to ensure the housing of renewables and electrified demands — and a set of regulatory incentives on cross-border cost sharing for offshore projects. By June 2024, the Commission will publish guidance on cross-border cost sharing for offshore projects to support EU countries and national authorities in such activities.