In order to deal with the explosion of renewables, Europe needs “a smarter approach” to grid expansion, according to two industry groups. Tildy Bayar reports

The Renewables Grid Initiative, a collaboration between the EU’s major transmission system operators (TSOs), environmental NGOs and WindEurope, the wind sector trade body, has called for “more strategic” investments in grid rollouts in order to meet Europe’s target of integrating 35 per cent renewable power onto the grid by 2030.

“To deliver an adequate grid in Europe and further reduce system costs, the extension of electricity infrastructure needs to be done in a smarter way,” the groups said.

To this end, they recommend a three-step approach that includes closer collaboration between renewable power producers and grid operators in order to clarify where to invest in additional infrastructure.

If Europe’s member states were to detail how much renewable power they plan to deploy post-2020 as part of their National Energy & Climate Plans, previous problems with grid bottlenecks could be avoided, the groups said.

And they added that, along with the expansion of renewables, planning for the development of new transmission lines must consider the electrification of other sectors.

Increasing electrification of sectors such as heating, transport and industry means the EU will need to prioritize extensions and upgrades to electricity grids over gas grids when allocating funds, the groups warned. And they said power market software also “needs to be fixed”, with grid support services increasingly commoditized.

“New wind power plants are technically able to provide these services and many countries already impose these responsibilities on wind farms. But many markets still do not allow wind power plants to provide and be compensated for these services,” they said.

“In the next decade, massive growth of renewables as well as related grid development need to be supported,” said Renewables Grid Initiative chief executive Antonella Battaglini.

“This can only be realized if we at the same time protect nature and involve society in the process. This requires multidisciplinary skills and collaborative processes to properly address people’s concerns and desires for a more sustainable and, at the same time, affordable energy future.”

And WindEurope chief executive Giles Dickson said: “The energy sector is transforming rapidly. This transformation needs a common vision, shared by both the renewables and grid industries.

“The investments in new electricity grids are essential to ensure Europe can fully exploit its wind resource,” he added. “A smarter approach to how we develop the grids will allow wind energy to provide an ever greater part of consumers’ energy needs. This will be key in meeting an ambitious renewables target for 2030.”

Meanwhile, the European Union can increase the share of renewables in its energy mix to 34 per cent by 2030 – double the share of 2016 – with a net positive economic impact, according to a report launched in Brussels by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

Director-general Adnan Z Amin said that achieving higher shares of renewable energy is possible with today’s technology, and would “trigger additional investments of around €368 billion ($439 billion) until 2030 – equal to an average annual contribution of 0.3 per cent of the GDP of the EU”.

He also claimed that the number of people employed in the sector across the EU – which is currently 1.2 million – would grow significantly under a revised strategy.

Amin said that raising the share of renewable energy would help reduce emissions by a further 15 per cent by 2030 – an amount equivalent to Italy’s total emissions. These reductions would bring the EU in line with its goal to reduce emissions by 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels, and set it on a positive pathway towards longer-term decarbonization.

The increase would, he added, result in savings of between €44 billion and €113 billion per year by 2030, when accounting for savings related to the cost of energy, and avoided environmental and health costs.

“For decades now, through ambitious long-term targets and strong policy measures, Europe has been at the forefront of global renewable energy deployment,” he said. “With an ambitious and achievable new renewable energy strategy, the EU can deliver market certainty to investors and developers, strengthen economic activity, grow jobs, improve health and put the EU on a stronger decarbonization pathway in line with its climate objectives.”

Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, said the IRENA report “confirms our own assessments that the costs of renewables have come down significantly in the last couple of years, and that we need to consider these new realities in our ambition levels for the upcoming negotiations to finalize Europe’s renewable energy policies”.

Antonella Battaglini

Europe could ‘harness an extra 86 GW of solar’

The report highlights that all EU Member States have additional cost-effective renewable energy potential, noting that renewable heating and cooling options account for more than one-third of the EU’s additional renewables potential. Furthermore, all renewable transport options will be needed to realize the EU’s long-term decarbonization objectives.

Additional key findings from the report include:

• Reaching a 34 per cent renewable share by 2030 would require an estimated average investment in renewable energy of around
€62 billion per year;

• The renewable energy potential identified would result in 327 GW of installed wind capacity an additional 97 GW compared to business as usual, and 270 GW of solar, an
86 GW increase on business as usual;

• Accelerated adoption of heat pumps and electric vehicles would increase electricity to 27 per cent of total final energy consumption, up from 24 per cent in a business as usual scenario;

• The share of renewable energy in the power sector would rise to 50 per cent by 2030, compared to 29 per cent in 2015;

• In end-use sectors, renewable energy would account for 42 per cent of energy in buildings, 36 per cent in industry and 17 per cent in transport;

• All renewable transport options are needed, including electric vehicles and – both advanced and conventional – biofuels to realize long-term EU decarbonization objectives.

Tildy Bayar is features editor of PEi magazine