Cross-border sharing of electricity and solidarity will unlock a resilient and sustainable future for Europe, write a group of cross-party MEPs.
The following opinion piece has been signed by MEPs Bas Eickhout (Greens, Netherlands), Martin Hojsík (S&D, Slovakia), Ville Niinistö (Greens, Finland), and Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP, Finland).
Europe stands at a pivotal point. This summer brought record-high gas prices alongside unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves. And yet, with crises on multiple fronts, this is just a foreshadowing of the challenges we face this winter and the ones to come.
As Europe grapples with energy insecurity, countries are starting to fight back with solar panels and wind turbines. The majority of EU nations have already accelerated wind and solar deployment, putting the bloc almost on track to deliver the 45% renewable energy goal for 2030 backed by MEPs this month.
Eight nations bordering the Baltic Sea declared themselves the “frontline of European energy security” as they committed to increasing offshore wind sevenfold by 2030, while Europe’s record solar summer helped avoid €29bn in gas imports.
The energy transition, once a climate imperative, is now an economic and security necessity. And as with other complex challenges, like the pandemic, coordinated action and deep cross-border cooperation will be key to ensuring Europe succeeds.
Here we speak of cooperation not only at the political level but also tangibly demonstrated through shared, cross-border electricity infrastructure.
The value of an interconnected Europe
Electricity interconnectors are the ultimate facilitators of the energy transition. Openness to sharing electricity will enable Europe to harness the full potential of its abundant supply of clean and cheap renewable electricity.
With multiple weather systems in play across Europe, countries with excess supply of wind and solar can export electricity to meet demand in other countries where supply is short, thereby contributing to security of supply and resilience.
And wind and solar can be deployed in areas with optimal conditions, easing both the challenge and the cost of the required renewable scale-up.
Europe’s interconnections also extend beyond cross-border lines. Countries are now taking advantage of shared offshore resources by developing cross-border energy hubs connected to the mainland by subsea cables.
EU funding for such projects was introduced as part of the revised Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) programme, with support recently awarded to three projects involving a total of seven EU countries.
The social benefits of this are clear; investments in interconnection materialise in significant cost savings for consumers of between €5-9bn each year, pushing electricity prices down as cheap, renewable power is maximised and shared across the continent.
And beyond that, quickly decarbonising the electricity system will unlock emissions cuts across the economy, through electrification of heating, transport and industry.
Europe is already the world’s largest interconnected grid, with more than 400 interconnectors linking nearly 600 million citizens. It’s a superpower that Europe can supercharge for the challenges ahead. The work is, however, far from done.
Eight years to double Europe’s interconnection
The European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E) has estimated that today’s interconnection capacity must double by 2030, representing a huge feat which must be accomplished in just eight short years. And even this can be seen as the minimum effort required.
This admittedly intimidating figure is supported by recent modelling by energy think tank Ember which found that doubling electricity interconnection offers the cheapest way to ensure resilience in a future electricity system dominated by wind and solar.
The need for expanded electricity interconnection is also backed up by the Paris Agreement Compatible (PAC) energy scenario, which was developed by the European Environmental Bureau and CAN Europe in partnership with grid operators, industry representatives, economists, and researchers.
REPowerEU plans to inject an additional €29 billion into power grids, but current plans only meet three-quarters of the growth needed between 2025 and 2030. Given typically long permitting times for interconnection projects, new proposals need to materialise fast.
Political willingness to commit to deepening energy interdependence lies at the heart of this, and current discussions on European energy markets present an opportunity to address political concerns on linking power markets.
It has been a valuable lesson to see that, in this moment of crisis, Europe has found that it’s much more difficult to share gas and support its neighbours, as the system was designed to flow east to west. We don’t want to repeat the same mistake with electricity, which will be the foundation of all European energy by 2050.
Faith Birol, head of the International Energy Agency is among those calling for unity and solidarity in this moment of crisis.
A European peace project for this decade
Deepening electricity interconnection is a truly European project that will strengthen regional cooperation between member states.
This major infrastructure project requires a far more active role from the European Commission in planning and coordinating infrastructure development and for member states and their neighbours to collaborate across borders, share resources openly and deepen their connectedness.
It can be a showcase peace project for this critical decade, a symbol of European unity, solidarity and resilience in the face of threats and insecurity.
It has been almost 30 years since the EU was founded with its vision for a more connected and peaceful Europe. In less than 30 years, Europe will need to have transformed its economy to reach Net Zero. A new vision for a connected, sustainable and secure Europe is still being formulated. Electricity interconnection will be at its heart.