Why Europe needs an electricity Supergrid
Extracts from a speech by Christian Kjaer, CEO of the European Wind Energy Association, speaking at 'Supergrid: The future of renewable energy integration', London 9-10 March.
Over the next 12 years 360 GW of new electricity-generating capacity – 50% of Europe’s current capacity - needs to be built to replace ageing power plants and meet the expected increase in demand for electricity. The time is ripe for a complete overhaul of our electricity supply structure. We must use the next ten years to change the way the electricity is produced, transmitted and consumed in Europe.
Europe must use this opportunity to construct a new, modern power system capable of meeting the energy and climate challenges of the 21st century, while enhancing Europe’s competitiveness.
Europe’s current electricity structure still bears the characteristics of the time in which it was developed. It is national in nature, the technologies applied are ageing and the markets supporting it are underdeveloped. Given the international nature of the energy challenges we face, it is astounding that 24 years after the Single European Act was signed, we still do not have an internal market for electricity. We urgently need to establish the free movement of energy; the Supergrid will be fundamental for establishing that freedom.
The power system must be supported by modern infrastructure technology, research and development, and well functioning markets for electricity and transmission in which investors, rather than consumers, are exposed to fuel and carbon price risk.
Supporting the expansion of wind energy and other renewable energy technologies, Europe needs dramatically improved competition in the Internal Energy Market, through new electricity infrastructure, changes in system operation and development of effective electricity markets throughout the EU.
While the EU’s climate and renewable energy targets have set the direction for renewable technology and CO₂ reductions in the short term, the missing element today is a common European vision for the architecture of a future modern pan-European electricity network – onshore and offshore.
The Supergrid provides such a vision.
A single European grid and effective competition in the European power markets are essential elements, not only for the integration of large-scale wind power and other renewable but also to ensure that European consumers have access to affordable and domestically produced energy.
By 2020, most of the EU’s renewable electricity will be produced by onshore wind farms. Europe must, however, use the coming decade to prepare for the large-scale exploitation of its largest indigenous resource, offshore wind power.
We must stop thinking of electrical grids as national infrastructure and start developing them – onshore and offshore – to become European corridors of electricity trade. And we must start developing them now. The faster it is developed, the faster we will have a domestic substitute if future fuel import supplies are disrupted or the cost of fuel becomes prohibitively expensive, as the world experienced during 2008 when the oil price touched $150 per barrel for the first time.