This article is part of our special report Europe’s electricity grids: Joining up the dots.
A survey of European stakeholders has found overwhelming support for giving priority, funds and planning waivers to allow the speedy construction of European grid infrastructure.
In a survey of businesses, industrial associations, NGOs and think tanks, 81% of respondents said that creating a single European electricity market, and the needed grid infrastructure, should be an EU policy priority.
“We couldn’t agree more,” said Susanne Nies of Eurelectric, an association representing major European power generators.
Because of phase out’s of capacity, such as nuclear energy in Germany, and a need to balance variable energies such as wind and solar, “there is a need for a speedy, timely and fast extension – and improvement – of the European grid to make it fit for the new energy system,” she told EURACTIV.
“It needs to be done as fast as possible,” said Nies, who is head of unit for energy policy and generation at Eurelectric.
Almost 98% of those polled in the survey believed that Europe needs to upgrade, extend and fully interconnect its electricity grids to achieve a single electricity market and 75% wanted the EU to increase financial support to enable this to happen.
On the issue of grid permitting procedures, which has progressively vexed stakeholders in the new electricity grid economy, 87% said that the EU should issue permits more quickly, and another 70% supported the EU imposing time limits for resolving planning disputes.
“It is rare that there is such remarkable unanimity across industry and NGOs on a piece of legislation coming before the European Parliament,” Julian Scola, a spokesman for the European Wind Energy Association told EURACTIV.
“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,” he said.
Speaking at a European Economic and Social Committee conference, the energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, said it was “irreconcilable” that “the construction of electricity cables across the Pyrenees took thirty years because one member state had no interest in that competition.”
The self-selecting online survey was conducted for EWEA by the public affairs consultancy Hill and Knowlton, and only involved 45 respondents.
Nonetheless, “they certainly represent a very large number of members and, in many cases, thought leaders in their field,” Julian Scola pointed out.
Participants in the survey included the European Policy Centre, the Andalusian Energy Agency, the Nature Conservancy in Europe, and the European Battery Manufacturers Association.
Smart grids are digitised electricity grids that enable two-way communication between suppliers and consumers and feature an intelligent monitoring system to track electricity flows in all directions.
Despite the lack of EU legislation on the deployment of smart grids, the third energy package adopted in 2009 encouraged the long-term modernisation of European grids.
In October 2009, the Commission published its long-awaited funding map for the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan. It earmarked €2bn of public and private investment to the 'European electricity grid initiative' in order to enable 50% of Europe's networks to operate as smart grids.