Konstantin Staschus is secretary-general of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E).
He was speaking to Susanna Ala-Kurikka.
What purpose does the first ten-year network development plan serve?
One very important feature of this first EU-wide ten-year network development plan is that it's the first Europe-wide comprehensive overview of all the transmission infrastructure projects that are needed and planned for the next ten years. What we had before were national and regional plans but no EU-wide overview. You could call this transparency of transmission infrastructure planning.
But at the same time, the plan should be important input for power generation investment and policy decision-making. So it's also meant as a beginning of a feedback loop between us, generation investors and policymakers to make sure that decisions about new conventional or renewable generation take into account the network, and so that our members' network plans build on realistic generation scenarios.
Finally, we're hoping that the future infrastructure legislation that the Commission intends to propose towards the end of the year will in some way be building on our non-binding ten-year plans.
Have you identified specific regions where grid development is urgent?
Our approach was to 'disaggregate' Europe into six regional groups - in all of them quite a bit of new infrastructure is needed. The additional infrastructure that we need takes different shapes. Sometimes it's sub-station investment, sometimes it's phase-shifting transformers, but very often it is additional transmission lines.
To give a clearer idea of how much new transmission is needed, the document states a figure of 14% of the presently existing kilometres of transmission lines that will need to be newly built or upgraded over the next ten years. Those 42,000 compared to 300,000 km are not much if you look at the key role that transmission has for our 2020 goals of bringing renewable energy to the customer and integrating the European market with fewer and fewer bottlenecks.
What are the most important drivers behind new infrastructure?
The three important drivers behind the infrastructure investments are the goals of European energy policy.
First, increasing the use of renewable energy sources (RES) to 20% of total energy production by 2020. This implies, for example, not only putting cables into the North Sea to bring offshore wind energy to shore but also lines to transport that electricity into the countries, to the load centres.
Second, market integration and the promotion of the full development of the internal market in electricity. Through the development of the liberalised market over the last fifteen years, there have been more and more international exchanges, which have brought more and more lines to their operating limits, not only between different countries but also lines within individual countries that affect how much can be transferred over long distances. The result is congestion, where the market would want to transfer more energy than the network can allow from one side to the other – depending on where the wind blows or where it is especially cold.
If an economic analysis is made at spots like that and indicates that it is cost effective to invest in a new line or a reinforcement within a country to alleviate that congestion, then that investment would contribute to market integration and to economic benefits for customers.
The third, very important driver of infrastructure investments is security of supply. As the load grows, or as generation shifts between different parts of the country, you may just need reinforcement of your network to be able to keep operating it securely.
Do different regions have different drivers of network development?
It's hard to give a short answer to this question as one would need to go into regional details.
Nonetheless, just to give one of many examples to illustrate the necessity of infrastructure investment with a regional focus: if you take South Western Europe, meaning Portugal, Spain and France, there are several drivers that act together.
Wind integration is one important driver in that region, because Spain especially already has a lot of wind energy and Portugal and France are installing wind generation quite rapidly. But also the interconnection capacities are too low, between especially France and Spain, but also Spain and Portugal. There are some very high-priority projects to increase interconnection capacity, which would help market integration but would at the same time also help secure integration of wind energy. This is typical in all the six regions.
Have you taken into account any developments in the Mediterranean Solar Plan?
We mention the development of trans-Mediterranean interconnectors and the Mediterranean Solar Plan with a view to the longer term.
If there is going to be something called a 'supergrid', it's going to be planned, financed, built and operated by our members, the transmission system operators. They do feel responsible for looking into the future beyond 2020.
But there is a project described in the plan which is to become reality already before 2020: that would be a DC line between Sicily and Tunisia. One of the drivers for that line is to be able to tap into the solar energy potential in North Africa later on.
But of course there is also solar energy potential – be it photovoltaic or solar thermal – in the southern parts of Europe itself, and quite a few of the lines to some extent will be motivated by that as well.
What is the scale of investment required?
We did sum up only until year 2015 how much we think these infrastructure investments of European significance would cost, and the figure we came up with was between 23 and 28 billion euros.
Our calculation only covers the first half of the period until 2020 because, for the period following 2015, it's more difficult to estimate the cost reliably.
Is it the TSOs who will make the investment?
The short answer is yes.
We have national regulatory agencies in each country, and one of their tasks is to set the rates that the transmission system operators can charge the transmission system users for the use of their networks. Of course, those rates have to be set in such a way that new investments are financially possible.
What will be the greatest challenges in getting the investment to where it is needed?
The primary challenge is the permitting process, where we have had too many examples across the continent of very important lines being delayed year after year; in some cases even adding up to 30 years from the beginning of the planning - when the need for a line is already there – until the time when the line is finally in operation: all that in a context where the actual construction and putting into operation of a line can usually be done in a couple of years.
In most cases you need at least an additional four, five, six years – depending on the country – to get a line through the permitting process. So if everything goes smoothly, in most countries you're talking about at least five years, often seven or eight.
In cases of controversy due to local opposition to the construction of overhead transmission lines, it may take ten or twelve years before the line can enter into operation and in some extreme cases the thirty years we have unfortunately had to observe.
It's a significant barrier, and we are hoping that the pan-European picture which we are providing in the TYNDP can help make residents, customers and local politicians understand how a particular piece of infrastructure fits into the overall picture, in particular the picture of the large energy policy goals of the EU as well as of each country.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the infrastructure investments are driven by the goal to integrate renewable energy sources. Hence, if these lines are not built or are significantly delayed, then that also hampers those renewables goals.
Was there anything surprising you found out when compiling this picture?
The amount of required direct current (DC) lines surprised us. The explanation rests, I believe, with the offshore subsea lines.
The North Sea offshore grid, for instance, is within the 2020 horizon – not for each and every piece of a real grid, but for quite a few pieces. And those add up to quite a few kilometres of direct current lines, because this is the most appropriate technology to be used for longer subsea lines, and the North Sea is not so small.
If you look at the Mediterranean, there are also a few subsea cables planned. We can observe already in the planning for 2020 the beginning of something like a grid connecting the different parts of the Mediterranean.