Europe’s Energy Union should take inspiration from the Internet

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Driving into the future. [Kevin Dooley/Flickr]

The Internet is history’s most successful example of interconnection and unity through transmission, a model which the EU could replicate when deciding on its plans for an Energy Union, writes Thomas Becker.

Thomas Becker is CEO of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA)

The Internet is history’s most successful example of interconnection and unity through transmission.

It is a network of networks that transcends national borders, governments, militaries and political agendas. Today, the Internet is vital to the very fabric of our society; a common resource that delivers economic growth, facilitates global trade, creates jobs and attracts investment. It remains the greatest model of a truly integrated single market.

I believe that this is the model that Europe should replicate in its pursuit of an Energy Union. Over the next five years, the European project must use this concept to create an Energy Internet.

Currently, Member States are working with archaic grid infrastructures, which are over 60 years old, and are yet to be digitised and brought up-to-speed with other areas of our economies.

An Energy Internet includes cross-border cooperation to bind national grids together with more efficient technology that will allow nations to tap indigenous resources in remote areas and transfer power to Europe’s densely populated cities.

But while Europe’s hardware is in desperate need of an upgrade, an Energy Internet goes far beyond the mere construction of electricity pylons and interconnectors. It is about creating a culture among Member States that will allow Europe’s 28 energy systems to communicate effectively through the unencumbered movement of power from North to South, East to West.

Much like the free flow of information, electricity generated in the Scottish Highlands must be granted free passage across national frontiers to power homes and businesses along the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria and Romania.

It is not that our Europe needs more energy for this to be achieved, but rather that our energy needs more Europe. Therefore, we must address the question of whether or not some decisions should be taken at the supranational level rather than by Member States individually. 

For this reason, I believe Vice President Commissioner for Energy Union Maroš Šef?ovi? faces the single greatest challenge in the College over the next five years. If a true unification of Europe’s energy systems is to be achieved, accords will need to be found between 28 governments, 28 energy ministries and 28 regulators. 

Commissioner Šef?ovi? will need to spur Member States to overcome deeply entrenched misgivings of their neighbours, abandon historical prejudices and open up their energy systems for the greater good of the European project. He will need to balance the interests of countries such as Denmark, which is committed to 100% renewable power by 2050, with the coal-fired economies of Poland and Estonia.

Such a feat is not to be underestimated but I am confident that Europe has overcome greater challenges in the past.

Throughout history economic transformations have unfolded when new energy regimes emerge; the rise of coal and oil in the 19th and 20th century respectively is testament to this. Now, in the 21st century, renewables are taking up this mantle and will play a central role in getting Europe’s Energy Union online.

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