It can be hard to find signs of unity in the European Union at the moment, but there is one area where there are growing calls for harmonisation – the power sector.
The increasing need to accommodate and balance renewables into grids, and Germany’s decision to ditch nuclear and thus rewrite its entire energy policy, has seen the European power landscape shift under the feet of the industry.
And there is a growing realisation that countries cannot go it alone to ensure their security of supply.
Interconnections already exist between several Member States and more are underway – for example, links between the UK and Ireland, UK and the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden, Sweden and Denmark, France and Spain etc. – but all of these, while vitally important links, are simply trading power with next-door neighbours.
What more and more power players want to see is an Europe-wide blueprint that encompasses the necessary funding and planning waivers to ensure the continent’s grid infrastructure is fit for purpose in the 21st century and beyond.
A recent survey of European businesses, industrial associations, NGOs and think-tanks found that 81 per cent believed that creating a single European electricity market, and the associated grid infrastructure, should be an EU policy priority.
The survey, conducted by consultancy Hill and Knowlton for the European Wind Energy Association, found that almost 98 per cent of those polled believed that Europe needs to upgrade, extend and fully interconnect its electricity grids to achieve a single electricity market, and 75 per cent wanted the EU to increase financial support to enable this to happen.
About 87 per cent of respondents – which included the European Policy Centre, the Andalusian Energy Agency and the European Battery Manufacturers Association – said that the EU should speed up grid permitting procedures and 70 per cent supported the EU imposing time limits for resolving planning disputes.
Julian Scola, a spokesman for the European Wind Energy Association, said: “It is rare that there is such remarkable unanimity across industry and NGOs on a piece of legislation coming before the European Parliament. It sends a message that there is very strong support for the EU taking action to speed up the grid permitting process and proposing new financing mechanisms.”
Eurelectric, an association representing major European power generators, has been calling for joined-up thinking on grid infrastructure for some time. Head of energy policy and generation Susanne Nies said Eurelectric “couldn’t agree more” with the results of the survey. She added that “a speedy, timely and fast extension – and improvement – of the European grid” needed to be carried out “as fast as possible”.
The calls for a European electricity overhaul are not falling on deaf ears: EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said it was “irreconcilable” that “the construction of electricity cables across the Pyrenees took 30 years because one Member State had no interest in that competition”.
And the potential cost-savings to Europe are vast: a recent report suggested that the successful deployment of Smart Grids could save the European Union €52 billion ($71 billion) annually.
I think that there is no doubt that Europe will interconnect its electricity grids, because, if for no other reason, it has no choice. Any country is going to find it easier to meet its supply demands if it can rely on its neighbours, in turn ensuring that what is good domestically is also good for Europe as a whole.
The power industry may end up offering the perfect working model of European Union ideals.
Heather Johnstone, PhD