The European Commission’s energy strategy for Europe requires that 20% of all energy consumed within the EU is from renewable sources by 2020. The Commission estimates that 12% of overall energy use should be supplied by offshore wind. Further, the Renewable Directives also require member states to implement sufficient grid capacity to accept wind power; and include a framework to encourage priority access and despatch for wind generated power.
The EU has also tightened legislation on the internal electricity markets, and stipulates that Transmission System Operators (TSO’s) submit bi-annual transmission development plans, under the ‘Third Liberalisation Package’. The proposals are intended to create a single, harmonized electricity market across Europe. The aim is to achieve improved system operation, fair access for renewable generation systems, and greater cooperation between TSO’s; headed by ENTSO (European Network of Transmission Operators).
Long term energy strategy targets will lead towards an 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The redevelopment of the European grid infrastructure must take into account the current issues of enabling connection to wind power and distributing electricity sourced from offshore wind to reach immediate targets; whilst keeping one eye on the restructuring of the grid into a system that can provide the capabilities to cope with demand ahead of 2050 and beyond.
The developments and requirements for a new European infrastructure
A complete and continental wide electricity network structure could provide Europe with several benefits in addition to the integration of renewable energy. A fully interconnected grid utilizing smart technology will reduce the cost of the move towards a carbon free society for individual countries. It could vastly improve the security of service for consumers, and ensure efficient use and lower prices by the routing of energy to specific areas of demand. It should also increase competition in the single energy market across Europe.
The development of the European grid network, and the requirements to make a super grid viable are both varied and complex. ENTSO’s Ten Year Network Development Plan proposes infrastructure redevelopment across 34 European countries, and includes initiatives towards up to 500 investment projects totalling 23-28€ billion over the next five years. The networks connecting over 525 million people over the continent will require around 35,000km of new transmission lines, and up to 7,000km worth of upgrades to existing lines. This represents a significant proportion (14%) of the total existing transmission lines, and the TSO’s responsible plan to carry out 44% of this work in the coming five year period, with the remaining 56% to be undertaken in the following five years.
In the context of renewable energy, the connection of wind power to the European grid presents its own specific issues, which must be overcome on a global level to enable full integration. Due to the location of the generation plants, usually remote and far from the areas of high demand and storage, measures must be taken to develop transmission lines to connect wind farms to the grid. Innovation is also required in high voltage long distance transmission and electricity storage technology. By its nature wind power is a highly variable energy source, and networks will need to be able to cope with periods of minimal generation as well as periods of high production. Interconnecting grids between countries must be able to freely allow the physical exchange of electricity, while congestion management and transmission efficiency will take on far greater importance.
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