Improving the energy networks of Europe

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The European Commission has embarked on the monumental task of identifying bottlenecks and weaknesses in the continent's electricity network and defining areas of action, partly with the aim of increasing the potential for high penetration of renewable energy in the European power system

European Commission proposals to improve the continent's Trans European Energy Networks (TEN) now include specific reference to the needs of renewables. "Connection of renewable energy to the interconnected energy networks" is one of two new policy priorities in addition to the existing four in a Commission proposal to amend the TEN guidelines. It notes in a communication to the European council of ministers and European parliament that "the development of renewable energies will depend on special efforts being made to ensure that access to the infrastructure is secured on fair and transparent terms." The other new priority being pushed by the Commission is liberalisation of energy markets.

Its proposals for new guidelines are part of a wider action plan to fight congestion and bottlenecks in energy infrastructure, ensure security of supply, and integrate renewables. The Commission has categorised the existing 90 TEN work areas into ten new groups "of common interest," of which two impact renewables: development of electricity connections within member states and actions "to improve the functioning of the interconnected electricity networks within the internal market."

Spain is cited as an example where development of internal electricity interconnection is needed in the northeast and west of the country "in particular to connect wind generating capacities to the network." The UK, too, is singled out for reference on the need for better connections in Scotland and England "with a view to greater use of renewable sources in electricity generation."


But it is in the area of interconnection of Europe's networks, or lack of interconnection, that the report has most to say of relevance to wind. It says that identification of bottlenecks and missing links (especially cross-border), solving congestion, improving forecasts of supply and demand, and adapting methods of grid control area all areas where action is needed to enable both high renewables penetration and proper functioning of the internal European market. Government intervention is needed to solve problems "that industry alone will not address."

Limited transmission capacity between Denmark and Germany is used as an example hindering growth of wind power. Wind generation has increased significantly in both countries, but transmission cables are often congested across the border. Southbound, capacity is limited to 1200 MW by static stability problems observed by Danish utility Eltra some years ago. According to a study for the Commission by two German companies, the Institute of Power Systems & Power Economics, and Consentec, an energy consulting firm, the utility says that if stability were not critical, transmission capacity could be raised to 1400 MW. To improve static stability, Eltra has installed power systems stabilisers. "However, the transmission capacity has remained constant because no new stability studies have been carried out. And we do not know if the potential increase would be impeded by internal restrictions in the E.on Netz network on the German side," the study states.

Northbound, transmission capacity is just 800 MW. E.on Netz says this is because a margin of a few hundred megawatts is assigned for reserve power in case of a generator outage in southern Denmark. "The situation is not transparent," says Christian Zimmer, head of the team which produced the study on Electricity Network Capacity and Identification of Congestion. "More work should be done for example to establish whether Eltra is applying an unusually high safety margin," he adds. The study concludes that the Danish/German border "is affected by severe congestion due to a superimposition of causes and the ongoing increase in wind generation will probably further exacerbate this situation."

The Denmark/Germany junction is one of seven critical electricity bottlenecks identified by the Commission, the others being the borders between France and Spain, the Benelux borders, those of Italy, the interconnection between the UK and continental Europe, and Greece and Ireland. The Commission's proposal to amend the TEN guidelines aims to give these projects priority status, and suggests they should receive support for up to 20% of investment costs, instead of the 10% granted under the present TEN financial support rules.

Whether the Commission's proposals are acted upon depends on the EU parliament and council of ministers. Neither of these two pillars of EU government seem to be in a hurry to do anything about it. The TEN amendments and ideas for new guidelines were put forward by the Commission in December. By March neither parliament nor the council had moved. "This three month delay is not normal, but there have been a lot of energy issues under discussion," is the explanation for the foot dragging offered by Oliver Schäfer, political advisor for Mechtild Rothe, a German member of the EU parliament who sits on the energy committee.

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