EU must double energy grid funding, says study

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European Union nations must nearly double investment in power grid construction in the decade after 2020 if they are to get on the path to carbon-free electricity by mid-century, the European Climate Foundation (ECF) think-tank said yesterday (7 November).

The European Commission raised the goal of virtually emissions-free electricity in its 2050 road map towards a low-carbon economy, published earlier this year, as the means to achieve an 80%-95% cut in carbon emissions that scientists say is needed by then to stave off the worst effects of global warming.

"The European Union needs to establish a credible and adequate policy framework to ensure implementation of the current plans and to steer the decarbonisation of the power sector beyond 2020," says the ECF report.

To meet 2020 goals to cut carbon by 20% and increase the share of renewable energy to 20%, member states need to increase transmission lines by 14%, or 42,000 kilometers (26,097.6 miles), at a cost of €628 billion over this decade.

For the next 10 years, the cost climbs to €1.2 trillion, said the ECF's report – Power Perspectives 2030: On the Road to a Decarbonised Power Sector in Europe.

In what it labels an "on-track" scenario, based on the EU managing fully to implement its plans up to 2020 and projects in 2030 in line with targeted emissions cuts, it anticipates a power mix in 2030 made up of 50% renewable energy.

The rest would include 34% fossil fuels, plus a further 8% from carbon capture and storage, and 17% nuclear.

Perfecting the grid is crucial to optimising available renewable energy, which tends to be concentrated on the fringes of Europe.

Bonds for energy

The ever-steeper challenge could require innovative approaches, especially to financing: for instance, selling asset-backed bonds to institutional investors.

"There is a growing consensus within the financial community that new financing models will need to be found to finance this transition alongside existing approaches," the report said.

The Commission has confirmed plans to launch European project bonds as part of its infrastructure financing plans to the end of this decade.

While power grids require huge investments, gas infrastructure could be adequate until around 2040 – provided the planned investments to 2020 go ahead – as renewable power, rather than carbon-emitting gas provides the solution to emissions reduction.

Beyond 2030, the report finds gas can only be "a significant destination fuel" if commercially viable ways of reducing its carbon emissions are in place.

"To keep the CCS [carbon capture] option both for coal and gas installations, more needs to be done to drive technological development," the report said.

The ECF's report was researched in collaboration with Imperial College, London, consultants, Royal Dutch Shell and a range of utilities and technology manufacturers.

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.

Smart meters, which are technologically and conceptually linked to grids, allow customers to consume energy away from peak energy times by, for example, programming washing machines cycles to run in the middle of the night.

A subsequent electricity directive paved the way for the roll-out of smart meters by requiring they be fitted in 80% of homes where deemed cost-effective by 2020.

In October 2009, the Commission published its long-awaited funding map for the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan. It earmarked €2 billion 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.

  • European Network of Transmission System Operators for ElectricityENTSO-E

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