Author: Thomas Sattich
Decarbonisation will change the European power sector greatly. Deeper integration of power networks is one key element for the success of this agenda. This implies the relocation of power generation capacities to new sites, shared cross-border use of generation capacities via integrated networks, and a more efficient allocation of power generation units in Europe; in turn this would result in the reduction of capital-intensive excess capacities to a minimum (BMWi 2013:21), thereby saving large financial means for other investments (Siemens 2013).
But a policy of deeper grid integration will also lead to increasing dependency on neighbouring countries. Any initiative towards more renewables therefore requires great sensitivity towards possible economic, technical and political side effects, and a high level of mutual trust. Unilateral steps in energy policy on the other hand undermine any progress in European energy policy, and should therefore be avoided. The latter potentially is one of the most serious constraints for any further increase in intermittent renewables in the European Union.
With the varying density of renewable energy resources and uneven distribution or intermittent RES stations in a particular area, the need for deeper interconnection varies, however. It seems therefore certain that the costs and benefits resulting from a policy to increase intermittent renewables by a policy of deeper grid integration would be unevenly distributed among the different member states involved (Sattich 2014). A collaborative mechanisms for co-ordinated network planning as well as a sound cost sharing mechanism are thus the prerequisites of a successful decarbonisation policy.
In the European legislations there are first example for such cost-sharing mechanisms, and with the Ten-Year Network Development Plan a (non-binding) instrument exists which brings a large number of stakeholders together for collective grid planning (Regulation 714/2009:Article 8). Given the critique of the EU’s focus on a bottom-up approach towards energy policy (even though it is only partly justified), it could be beneficial for the European Union to think outside the box in this regard, and follow working grid planning procedures to develop its own grid planning tools accordingly.
The Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) is an interesting candidate in this regard: A stakeholder process charged with developing a conceptual plan for expanding the Californian electricity transmission network to provide access to renewable energy resources necessary to meet the goal of 33 per cent of electricity by 2020 (Olsen, Byron & DeShazo 2012:837). Key feature of the RETI process is the collaborative identification of geographic regions having high densities of best quality resources, and the minimisation of transmission facilities necessary to access these renewable energies to meet state goals (Olsen, Byron & DeShazo 2012:837).
In a transparent, open and collaborative fashion, the stakeholders estimated and agreed on the estimated costs of developing RES resources, and determined the aggregate capacity and location of new transmission lines to be built: Given the diverse interests and perspectives of the stakeholders involved in the process, this required both compromise and willingness to proceed at controversial issues (Olsen, Byron & DeShazo 2012:842). RETI therefore used principles of least-regrets planning to guide its work (Olsen, Byron & DeShazo 2012:840). Sounds like something Europe could be in need of, doesn’t it?