How can large amounts of wind energy be integrated into the European power network?
The European power network was at the heart of discussions during a policy conference organised by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), the European Transmission System Operators (ETSO) and the European Commission today and yesterday in Brussels. In view of power cuts this weekend, experts discussed the European power infrastructure, the need to modernise the grid, increase interconnection between networks, and adapt the grid to new technologies such as wind energy. The issues of full ownership separation of production and transmission and a possible single European energy regulator to co-ordinate and regulate supply were also discussed.
The input to this two-day conference, attended by more than 250 delegates, came from different stakeholders involved in the integration issue: European institutions, representatives of the wind industry, TSOs (Transmission Systems Operators), research institutes and national governments.
Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs gave the opening address describing the achievements of wind energy growth over the past 35 years in terms of turbine size and power output which has grown one hundredfold since the first turbines. “Europe’s dominant position has been challenged by other countries with significant expansion in Asia and America. I am pleased about this; but it’s very clear that Europe should remain the leader. Therefore, political and technological challenges need to be addressed.”
“The EU-25 countries currently have a share of almost 3%, that’s equivalent to the total consumption of Portugal and Denmark. EWEA has set targets of 24% by 2030, although I think this could actually be higher based on energy efficiency gains in the mix. This means that wind energy will be a mainstream energy source not only now, but in the future.” Andris Piebalgs reminded the audience of the Stern report about the economic consequences of Climate change requiring immediate action. “Sustainable energy production and use is clearly the most ambitious and important for the EU and the world. Security of gas supply from Russia to the world is an enormous challenge. The best way to respond to this is to produce energy domestically. Our competitive advantage is in environmental energy technologies, and I think this is where our future is; wind energy is the best example of where we have made results.” He also highlighted a number of issues in particular the need for a strong efficient and liberalized EU energy market.
In relation to technology, the Commissioner said: “We will focus on further reducing costs and also forecasting wind availability. The newly-born European Technology Platform for Wind Energy will be a great way to face these challenges.” While on a more political note: “We should concentrate on offshore wind power and more efficient integration into the European transmission and distribution grid networks. We will use Intelligent Energy for Europe and TEN-Energy programs, as well as the 7th Framework research programme to support community projects.”
Member of the European Parliament, Claude Turmes highlighted a vision: “I share the dream with others here of transforming the North Sea from an oil and gas resource to a wind and marine energy resource. This would resolve all our dependency. If the North Sea becomes a renewable energy source then other countries will follow with other offshore projects.”
“We are at a moment in history where we must decide where to go. The answer is to phase in wind energy, biomass and cogeneration while being energy efficient. Wind and biomass are major investments for the next 15 to 20 years. This is the reason why we need to address the challenges of grid integration.”
President of the European Association of Transmission Systems Operators, Daniel Dobbeni said: “Operators and the wind industry need to work together. We need a European approach to tackle the obstacles to integrate renewable energy sources into the network. It is the duty of the operators to support energy changes. The main challenges to large scale integration are first of all better interconnectors and cross-border trade, because the priority is to tackle the lack of compatibility between European systems. Other challenges are to increase market competition as well as expansion of the grid, namely to include offshore wind farms. We also need subsidies to connect renewable energy sources to the grid.”
Other representatives from European operators raised the issue of requirements for good grid integration. They called for better European harmonisation of grid codes, but also respecting local specificities.
Speaking on behalf of the wind industry Christian Kjaer, EWEA CEO focused on the need to improve grid infrastructure as key to making markets competitive. “Wind energy will be able to compete on costs in the very near future, but to prove it we need markets to function. The infrastructure is a crucial element in creating real, fair and undistorted EU-wide competition”.
He emphasised the need for unbundling: ”Electricity generation and transmission must be separated.” As well as this, he called for a European Energy regulator to be created.
Eddie O’Connor, CEO Airtricity Ireland, shared his vision of a European Supergrid, a major international offshore project based on a high voltage sub-sea transmission network. The Supergrid will take advantage of the extensive wind resource in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean. “Offshore wind energy is key if we want wind power to supply a quarter of European electricity within the next 2 decades.” It would act as an interconnector between national markets and will mean greater competition, lower prices and security of supply. “If we build sufficient transmission systems, nothing can prevent integration of large amounts of wind into the network,” he added.
Bo Normark from ABB highlighted HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) transmission systems underground and offshore as a necessary technology to infrastructure and wind power integration; “we strongly believe in the Supergrid project,” he commented.
Manufacturers and developers also pointed out the necessity to adapt general technical requirements to integrate wind energy into the network. Ensuring fair access to the network and improving forecast lead times were two additional elements the wind industry analysed as essential to enable large-scale integration.
To conclude this two-day conference, for large amounts of wind energy to be integrated into the network, closer cooperation is needed between wind industry and utilities, systems analysts, grid operators and decision makers. Significant investments in the transmission network are crucial to improving the functioning of the European internal electricity market. Electricity networks of the future have to be better connected and reshaped to be adapted to new technological, economic, environmental and political realities.