The draft communication on energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and 2030 identifies nine priority projects of European interest to deliver Europe’s energy and climate objectives.
It points to missing links, insufficient market integration and the need to adapt the EU's energy infrastructures to manage an increasing share of intermittent renewable energy.
Europe's energy demand is set to be increasingly met with electricity, while in 2020, 16% of overall electricity generation will come from variable energy sources like solar and wind power, the paper states. The EU's climate and renewable energy targets will therefore require "extensive changes to the power grids" to integrate both distributed renewable sources and centralised power generation into the grid, the paper states.
The Commission estimates that 50,000km of electricity transmission lines will either have to be built or upgraded in the next decade to meet EU objectives on security of supply, renewables integration and market development.
Moreover, the paper foresees the building of a European "super grid" of very high-voltage lines that will be capable of transporting electricity across the continent to balance intermittent power generation – wind in the North and sun in the South.
"It will have to be woven into the existing alternating current high-voltage grid while allowing the same levels of system reliability and security," the paper says. In the longer run it could also equip Europe with more robust connections to neighbouring countries, it adds.
To put the infrastructure in place, the paper identifies the need to reduce delays in issues permits, which are crippling infrastructure projects. It points out that permit delays for building energy transmission infrastructure are now longer in many member states than delays in building the power plants to feed the lines.
European priority projects should be given preferential treatment to speed up their implementation, either by applying the fastest possible procedure at member-state level or by a new harmonised procedure, the paper says. The "preferred option" would be a "declaration of European interest" regime, which would trigger a simplified permitting procedure and maximum timeframes for each step in the process, it states.
Moreover, member states involved in cross-border projects should be required to enhance coordination, preferably providing a "one-stop shop" for permit application. In case of persistent conflicts and delays, the Commission or another authority could be given power to make decisions.
The Commission intends to table proposals on permitting for projects of EU interest next year.
"Permitting should be streamlined, but it should not be top-down. The market should have a place," commented Susanne Nies, head of energy policy and generation at Eurelectric, the association representing the electricity industry in Europe. She pointed out that it currently takes ten years to get an electricity line up and running, which is "totally incompatible with today's requests for more renewables".
CO2 transportation included
The draft plan also seeks to put CO2 transportation pipelines on Europe's priority list to prepare for the commercial-scale application of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
"Whilst storage capacity in Europe is plentiful, it is not evenly distributed geographically and in some cases distant from significant emissions sources," the paper reads. "Moreover, some EU member states that account for a significant proportion of Europe's CO2 emissions [e.g. Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic] have no more than 15 years of potential storage within their state boundaries," it adds.
CO2 pipelines installed between 2014 and 2020 will be associated with specific demonstration projects and unconnected, the draft says. But including CO2 transport infrastructure is necessary to accommodate a global rollout of CCS around 2025, it argues.
More EU funds for energy infrastructure?
The paper notes that not all of the "substantial investment" required to update Europe's energy transportation capacities in the next two decades will be provided by the market.
The document gives a tentative figure of up to €15bn of public support for the identified priority projects. It also mentions the financial perspectives 2014-2020, hinting that the Commission could be seeking money for energy infrastructure from the next EU budget.
The communication, scheduled for presentation in November, will be followed by a proposal for a new financial instrument to replace the Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E).