The European Commission unveiled an action plan on Tuesday (28 November) to accelerate the roll-out of electricity grids and remove bottlenecks hampering the deployment of renewable energies at the local level.
The Action Plan aims to ensure electricity grids are deployed faster and modernised to accelerate the transition to renewables.
“In many countries, renewable generation projects face long waiting times to get connection rights. Waiting time for permits for grid reinforcements are between 4-10 years, and 8-10 years for high voltages,” the Commission said in its action plan.
Probably the biggest challenge relates to Europe’s ageing local distribution grids, which are coming under increased pressure due to growing numbers of households connecting electric vehicles, heat pumps, and solar panels to the grid.
In total, the Commission estimates that €584 billion in investments will be necessary for electricity grids by 2030, with the majority going into local distribution networks to make them “digital, monitored in real-time, remotely controllable and cybersecure”.
“Grids need to be an enabler, not a bottleneck in the clean energy transition,” said Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner. “That way we can integrate the vast amounts of renewables, electric vehicles, heat pumps and electrolysers that are needed to decarbonise our economy,” she added in a statement.
The action plan aims to address the “missing links” in the clean energy transition with a 14-point action plan to improve the long-term planning of grids, faster permitting rules, and improved access to finance for grid projects – both at the transmission and distribution level.
Eurelectric, the EU’s power industry association, welcomed the Commission’s plan as “an excellent first step” in improving Europe’s electricity grids.
“It’s good to see that grids are now the centre of the EU agenda,” said Eurelectric’s President Leonhard Birnbaum, praising the Commission notably for promoting higher transparency in grid data exchanges.
“However, there is still room for improvement,” he added, citing the need to strengthen the resilience of power grids in the face of growing threats from extreme weather events caused by climate change.
In addition, Eurelectric called for “concrete guidelines” to clarify how the EU can ease funding access for grid projects at the distribution level.
“We call on the upcoming Belgian [EU Council] Presidency to ensure a proper endorsement of the EU Grid Action plan and ask EU countries to swiftly implement its actions to bring our electricity grids up to speed with the energy transition,” Birnbaum said.
The Regulatory Assistance Project, a think tank, also praised the Commission’s focus on better planning, financing and permitting of new grids – “in particular when it comes to complex projects like hybrid offshore connections or resolving interconnection waiting lines at the distribution level”.
However, RAP called for “a much stronger ‘net zero mandate’ for national regulatory authorities (NRA) to prioritise projects that contribute to decarbonisation.
“Gas, heat, and power network development needs to be planned in a locally coordinated way, which can not be left to network companies alone,” warned Bram Claes, senior advisor at RAP.
In parallel with its grid action plan, the Commission also unveiled a new list of projects of common European interest that will be eligible for EU funding – the so-called PCI List.
Out of the 166 selected projects, 85 are related to electricity, offshore and smart electricity grids, with many of them expected to be commissioned between 2027 and 2030, the Commission said.
For the first time, 65 hydrogen and electrolyser projects are included, which will play “a major role in enabling energy system integration” and decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors of the economy, the Commission said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
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