Energy transition

Europe’s electricity system – infrastructure lagging

Europe’s energy transition is assessed in six key areas by ENTSO-E’s PowerFacts.
Published: Mon 28 Jan 2019

With long term goals on carbon emissions reduction out to 2050, measuring progress can be a moving target. Not only are there multiple potential pathways in countries, but these pathways are complex and are open to disruption by new technologies.

As a major contributor to carbon emissions the power sector has a particular responsibility towards the targets, albeit that they are framed rather broadly in terms of renewables deployment and energy efficiency. To achieve these requires, as by now we are all familiar, a major transformation of the sector impacting both infrastructure and participants alike.

To get a sense of the energy transition in Europe, the transmission system operator (TSO) organisation, ENTSO-E, has gathered data reflecting its perspective across six areas, including the three of the traditional ‘energy trilemma’.

So where do we stand? As a reminder the 2030 targets, expected to deliver a 45% reduction in carbon emissions, are 32% of energy from renewables, 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency and 15% interconnection target. By 2050 complete decarbonisation of the energy system supporting a greater than 80% reduction in emissions. And the perspective offered is of a sector well into the transition, broadly making good progress with sound achievements but with some specific areas demanding additional effort.

Electricity supply and markets

The ‘trilemma’ areas of security of supply, sustainability and affordability are closely linked and mutually supportive.

According to the report, Europe enjoys one of the world’s most reliable power grids. For example, in 2017 there were no major or widespread blackout incidents and of the more than 1,000 incidents reported by the TSOs, almost two-thirds were characterised as anomalies. There were just two scale 2 ‘extensive events’, both in isolated island systems.

On the sustainability front, TSOs have facilitated the integration of 54GW of additional wind and solar capacity since 2015, including an 11% increase in net renewable generation between 2015 and 2017. Alongside this, energy efficiency has fallen by 10% in primary energy and 7% in final energy terms since 2005. However, there has been a diversity is this sustainability progress between countries and while there is uncertainty if the 2030 targets will be met, greater ambition is indicated in both areas looking to the longer term 2050 targets.

Good progress also has been made with market integration, the report indicates. Twenty-six countries accounting for over 90% of the region’s electricity consumption have coupled their day-ahead electricity markets and interconnector efficiency reached 86% in 2017. Intraday interconnector efficiency is lower at 50% but should increase with increased participation. In 2016 and 2017, the total physical energy flows between countries were 460-467TWh and benefits amount to up to €4bn per year.

Infrastructure and customers

Alongside these advances with market integration is a strong investment and development programme on new infrastructure, including interconnectors, with €114bn of projects envisaged by 2040 under ENTSO-E’s ten year network development plan. However, a quarter of the almost 200 projects of common interest are delayed, mainly due to a lack of public acceptance, according to the report. As these projects can benefit from accelerated permitting and regulation and financial support, they are crucial for accelerating further market and renewable integration. Indeed, without the delivery of additional new infrastructure, electricity costs are projected to increase amounting to a total €43bn per year in the worst case scenario.

Another key area of the energy transition is the opening up of the market to consumers. Examples of advances in the reoprt include increased volumes of demand side response in balancing markets by 260% in France, 112% in Finland, and 143% in Belgium from 2016 to 2017. Projections of the net social benefit that can be delivered by demand response by 2030 are in the range €3-5bn. On the downside, up to as many as 125m people in Europe are believed to be in energy poverty and is an area that needs attention.

The sixth area assessed is named cyber physical grid and reflects the digitalisation of the grid. Measures adopted by ENTSO-E are its role as a planner and director of research and innovation for TSO investment and the number of users on its open data transparency platform, now more than 12,000. With up to 10m new data files annually and 2,500 users daily, the platform is clearly an important sector resource but additional, resources are required to increase the data processing capabilities across the value chain. ENTSO-E’s Common Grid Model is anticipated to improve coordination between regions.

This report gives a good overview of the state of Europe's energy sector and the data also should serve as a baseline for comparison for future editions.