Friday, February 10, 2012

Driven by renewable energy

The European Union is demonstrating both vision and courage by firmly committing to the development of renewable energy. EU countries are investing in an infrastructure based on a 10-year plan that prioritizes the integration of renewables into the transmission system.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is touting the growth of its domestic oil, gas and coal industries. (GW)

EU's 10-year power grid plan 'driven by renewables'


February 10, 2012

In March, the European Network of Transmission Systems Operators (ENTSO-E) will submit a comprehensive 10-year plan for public consultation which shows that most of the continent’s investments in electricity infrastructure will be “driven directly or indirectly by renewable integration concerns,” ENTSO-E told EurActiv.


The EU's third legislative energy package in 2009 tasked ENTSO-E with adopting a non-binding, EU-wide 10-Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP) to be updated every two years.

On 1 March 2009, ENTSO-E presented a proposal for consultation with a view to adopting a pilot TYNDP in June ahead of the entry into force of the third energy package in March 2011.

The plan is non-binding legally-speaking, but is intended to serve as guidance for member states when adopting national plans. In March 2012, ENTSO-E will present its second TYNDP.

One official familiar with the proposal said renewable energies would be a driving force behind the proposed 10-year network development plan that will be tabled in March.

The plan will present highly detailed proposals on infrastructure that contribute to the EU's energy goals and supply security, including projects to connect renewable energy sources to transmission networks within and between countries.

This would be done using bi-directional energy flows from regions which may be, for example, rich in wind power. Energy will be transported to European hubs and nodes, with power potentially also being sent back the other way, to compensate for times when winds are not blowing.

Unlike ENTSO-E’s last, the new 10-year network development plan will look at projects from a "big picture" perspective that takes into account consumption growth, grid reinforcements and bulk power flows, ENTSO-E said.

About one fourth of the infrastructure will relate to projects that are delayed most due to lengthy permitting processes. “This is why the new 'Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure' is such a big step forward, as it provides for solutions to accelerate the building of new infrastructure,” an ENTSO-E source told EurActiv.

Cost-benefit analyses

The plan will also include criteria and indicators required under EU legislation as a way to help policymakers select the projects that best contribute to the EU's energy goals.

“Interpretation of these indicators in the context of a cost-benefit analysis should be done prudently as it is very difficult to quantify and monetise in precise figures all factors that play a role in a project assessment”, ENTSO-E said. "Only then the cost-benefit analyses can be a useful starting point for decision making".

However, doubts have emerged about the usefulness of the cost-benefit analyses that ENTSO-E has been asked to carry out for individual projects.

These relate to the cost allocation and ranking of infrastructure projects between countries that could bring electricity from southern Europe to the north or vice versa.

António Correia de Campos, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on the energy infrastructure package, said cost-benefit analyses “help the decision-maker but they don’t dictate a decision.”

He said he expected that the ENTSO-E cost analysis would “bring a common measure, monetisation of cost benefits, societal analysis, sometimes alternative proposals, and it may give light to parts of the proposals that are not fully clear.”

But one informed EU source said that, because of a lack of clarity in the legislation, Europe’s political echelons seemed to be “looking for a black box in which you push a button and you get precise numbers and, at least with projects of common interest it doesn’t work like that.”

“Not everything can be quantified and monetised,” the source said.

Grid interconnectors

Arthouros Zervos, president of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), said evaluating the benefits of grid interconnections to both parties in any situation was a highly difficult call to make.

“If you have two neighbouring countries and one has a market which is more expensive, the benefit will look different from one side or the other,” he told EurActiv, “so how do you calculate the benefit?”

“It is not going to be an easy exercise because the politicians are throwing the ball to the technical people (ENTSO-E) when it is also a political decision,” he said.

Zervos is also a special advisor to the Greek environment ministry, and was for five years a science officer in the European Commission’s Renewable Energy Unit.

One compromise solution could involve regional groups that the EU is planning to set up to validate the cost parameters for infrastructure projects.

“But we won’t provide the ranking,” an ENTSO-E source said. “It is not our task to say that ‘this project is more important than the other’. The devil is always in the detail and our task is to assess the projects based on a set of criteria.”

Next Steps

28 February: Deadline for draft report of the European Parliament on the energy infrastructure package
22 March: Deadline for tabling amendments to the draft report
March: ENTSO-E to launch first formal 10-year network development plan
31 May: Vote on the draft report by the Parliament industry Committee (ITRE)


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