In 2006, the European Commission issued guidelines concerning trans-European energy networks (TEN-E)1 which stated that, for the European internal energy market to operate effectively, it would be essential to build power grid infrastructure to ensure the interconnection and interoperability of electricity networks. In issuing the guidelines, the Commission aimed to ensure that Europe’s energy consumers would have access to a higher quality of service and a wider choice, due to the the diversification of energy sources. To make this possible, the guidelines recognized that it would be necessary to establish closer links between national markets and the EU as a whole.
In the context of smart grids, it is frequently the computer technology and networking aspects of the grid that get all the attention, while the traditional cable and pylon infrastructure that underpins the grid is sometimes overlooked. However, it is precisely cables and pylons that are required to strengthen the unity of the European grid and to allow consumers in London, for example, to benefit from a windy day off the west coast of Ireland, or consumers in Paris to respond to price signals from suppliers in Spain. The importance of these networks for the creation of the European internal energy market is reflected in the fact that 12 electricity infrastructure projects were selected to receive a total of EUR 904 million in funding under the European Energy Programme for Recovery (EEPR).
Most of the EEPR interconnector projects had previously been identified as TEN-E projects of European interest and were chosen for EEPR support because of their strategic importance. The projects will help enhance the European grid by strengthening the grid capacity between Spain and France, Portugal and Spain, Austria and Hungary, Ireland and the United Kingdom and also across central Germany. Furthermore, the projects will integrate isolated energy islands by building important new interconnections between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the Nordic electricity market. Interconnectors will also be built between Malta and Italy, and between Sicily and mainland Italy.
The largest project among the 12, in terms of overall investment and of EEPR contribution, involves the construction of an interconnector between France and Spain through a dedicated tunnel passing under the Pyrenees. The construction of a 65-km line between Santa Logaia in Spain and Biaxas in France will see a total investment of EUR 700 million. The project will increase the security of the Spanish electrical system and help to reduce the likelihood of blackouts. Furthermore, it will expand trade between the two countries and allow for the integration of wind, hydro, and solar energy produced in Spain into the European grid. The EEPR is providing EUR 225 million, which is being used to finance technical studies, the procurement of materials, and construction work on the cables, the converter station and the tunnel. Work started in early 2012 with the digging of the tunnel, the construction of converter stations and the laying of the cable on the French and Spanish sides. The project is set to be operational by its scheduled completion date in December 2014.
In second place in terms of EEPR contribution is a project to build the Nordbalt high-voltage direct current connection between Sweden and Lithuania with a transmission capacity of 700 MW. This interconnection will comprise a sub-sea cable of approximately 400 km, as well as converter stations in both countries. The project, which is called Nordbalt 1 (Nordbalt 2 is a separate project that aims to reinforce the grid in Latvia) will transmit electricity between the two countries, contributing to the integration of the energy market in the Baltic Member States and Nord Pool Spot - the power system that unites Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The new underwater cable will increase the reliability of the Baltic power system while decreasing its dependency on electricity from Russia. By contributing EUR 131 million of the total project cost of EUR 366 million, the EEPR is supporting the construction, installation and commissioning of the sub-sea cable and converter stations. Construction work has begun and the connection is set to start commercial operation in early 2016.
Five of the other electricity interconnector projects being co-financed by the EEPR, had already been completed as of October 2013: the extension of two 400 kW lines in Portugal; a transmission link between Vienna and the Hungarian city of Györ; construction of a 132 kV distribution center in Kappara in Malta; and finally - the laying of a 500 MW cable connection between the Republic of Ireland and Wales. Work on the remaining projects is ongoing and all actions supported by the EEPR are scheduled to be completed by 2017 at the latest.
The goal of establishing trans-European networks, including in the energy sector, is one of the founding principles of the European Union (the need for these networks is set out in Article 154 of the Treaty establishing the European Community2).These networks will play a critical role in ensuring the security and diversification of electricity supplies in the EU, while at the same time allowing interoperability with the energy networks of third countries and reducing the isolation of energy islands. In so doing, they will not only serve to enhance the integration of the European grid, but they will also contribute to the political objective of strengthening territorial cohesion within the EU.
For more information:
1Decision No 1364/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 September 2006 laying down guidelines for trans-European energy networks and repealing Decision 96/391/EC and Decision No 1229/2003/EC.
2Official Journal of the European Union C 325/33, Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union, 24.12.2002