Europe will only achieve energy security and its climate goals by accelerating the expansion of renewable energy and the electrification of the economy
The European environmental goals are ambitious. We are committed to ensuring that at least 42.5% of electricity comes from renewable sources in 2030 and achieving climate neutrality before 2050. To achieve these goals and even create a sales market for the growing capacity of renewable energy, it is necessary to increase the capacity of electrical networks.
Current power grids are true backbones of electrical systems and are far from meeting both requirements. Investing in them to increase their capacity is crucial if we truly aim for true decarbonization and energy security. The European Commission defends this when it points out that a high pace must be maintained in the expansion of renewable energies and the electrification of the economy.
The gradual decentralization of the electricity network requires, among other things, prioritizing capacity expansion through modernization and digitalization and increasing the investments necessary to ensure the security and reliability of the networks. Brussels has calculated that around 584 billion euros will have to be invested by 2030.
The limits of the current infrastructure are slowing down the expansion of renewable energies. Clean energy projects already face a long wait to connect to the grid, and there is no point in increasing green investments if the energy they produce cannot reach consumers. Currently, “it can take up to ten years to obtain approvals to expand the network,” admitted Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy.
Spain is one of the main culprits of this renewable energy shortage. More than 100 GW in bottled projects await connection to the grid, WindEurope, the European wind energy association, recently warned in a report that also called for a doubling of annual electricity investment in networks across the continent.
Given the additional demand expected in line with the European decarbonization agenda, Eurelectric, the European employers’ association in the electricity sector, is also calling for a strong boost to investment. If distributed, these should reach no less than 38,000 million euros per year by 2030 and up to 100,000 million euros per year by 2050. Eurelectric also believes that expected investments should be structurally integrated into the reform of the electricity market design, thereby closing the annual gap in the EU’s electrical infrastructure.
In this context, the EU Energy Commissioner is convinced that “the 11 million kilometers of networks must grow and change to meet growing demand. Electricity consumption is expected to increase by around 60% by 2030.” Therefore, networks will need to integrate a large proportion of intermittent renewable energy and adapt to a more decentralized electricity system.
The electricity transmission system is slowly showing its weaknesses as it is not growing at the same pace as renewable energy. This creates areas where local transmission and distribution networks are unable to deliver the available energy to consumers, which can lead to interruptions in generation or even energy discharges (which is equivalent to losing the generated throwing electricity in the trash).
These discharges are already occurring in Spain and are increasing. According to consulting firm Aurora Energy Research, solar and wind energy discharges increased more than tenfold last year, from 67 GWh in 2021 to 715 GWh in 2022. This grid inadequacy cost the power system 1.3 billion euros That corresponds to around 68 euros per household.
Both the operating constraints of the electricity grid and the costs for consumers and developers of “green” projects will increase without planning and investments that allow for maximum integration of renewable energy into the system.
The new National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) envisages investments in networks amounting to 52,920 million euros for the period 2023-2030. This is a high figure and represents around 18% of the total investments of the decade. However, the electricity sector is of the opinion that this would have to be significantly higher if we really want to achieve the decarbonization goals.
“We have pointed out the importance of the networks in the new PNIEC, it is described as a supporting element, but we believe that the planned investments are not sufficient, they must be increased and we must be aware of the importance so much integration of renewables Energies,” assured the president of the Spanish Association of Electric Energy Companies (Aelec), Marina Serrano.
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