Commissioner calls for expansion of EU energy empire

By John Parnell

The European Energy commissioner has called for the creation of an EU energy market stretching from Iceland to North Africa and the Atlantic to Azerbaijan.

Günther Oettinger told an EC conference this week that the EU should pursue renewable energy from geothermal sources in the north, offshore wind in the west and backed up with a secure supply of gas from a number of sources including the Caspian Sea.

“I think the internal energy market in the next couple of years we’ll have more partners, Caspian countries, Norway, Switzerland perhaps even North Africa will one day be part of our market place,” he told delegates.

“The internal market gives us many advantages. It creates competition, transparency, better security of supply and leads to a situation where we no longer need state aid. The market will use supply and demand to regulate and fund itself,” he said.

“Some member states have only one energy supply route. they are islands. We must ensure they have choices so that they can’t be blackballed. This is an issue of solidarity,” said Oettinger.

Oettinger also called on the 27 member states of the EU to liberalise their energy markets to ensure its 500m residents feel the benefit of their purchasing power in their electricity bills.

The meeting of industry representatives, NGOs and policymakers in Brussels focused on plans for a European Supergrid and better gas supply lines, despite it receiving a drastic funding cut in the latest European budget.

The EU supports the Nabucco Pipeline project to transport gas from the Caspian Sea through Turkey and eventually on to Austria, bypassing Russia.

Geothermal electricity from Iceland could one day be piped into an EU supergrid (Shutterstock/Johann Helgason)

In February the EU budget for energy connections was cut to €5bn having originally been €12bn.

The long term plan is to connect the solar rich south and the windy north so that when excess electricity is generated in one region it can be sold elsewhere. It is not uncommon for wind farms on remote parts of the UK to be cut off when they produce power in times of low demand.

Ilesh Patel, a partner at Baringa Partners told RTCC that cut is unlikely to have much effect on the plans.

“I’m not sure if we should read too much into it. I always have this figure of €200bn in my mind of the infrastructure investment that is required in major European transmission networks,” he said.

“Even €12bn was a relatively small amount. There is plenty of room for private sector investment, in fact it is absolutely required. In the end the [budget] reduction is disappointing but I’m not sure it is going to materially change the thinking here,” he added.

Fire and ice

A proposed cable from Iceland to the UK could carry excess geothermal power from the tiny volcanic country, to the UK and eventually, the rest of Europe via the Supergrid.

Speaking at the Icelandic Geothermal Conference Oettinger said: “Geothermal fits perfectly into our renewable strategy, into our technology ambitions, into our internal market ambitions. EU businesses and consumers are waiting for solutions that geothermal can bring.”

With Europe potentially adopting a 40% emissions reduction target for 2030, clean energy from all sources will be welcome, but grid upgrades are needed to make the most of the clean energy that is available.

“The climate policy is the main driver here. We need the new grid in response to renewable energy developments and low carbon generation. That’s the aggregate driver and that’s why the grid needs to step up and respond to that and develop,” said Patel.

Last week engineers in Germany reported that they had found a way to solve the clean energy conundrum of providing power all the time using intermittent renewables that tend to depend on wind, sunshine and rainfall.

By combining the output of a number of solar, wind and biogas plants the grid can be provided with stable energy 24 hours a day without fear of blackouts, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) in Kassel.

The Desertec Foundation is developing plans to build large solar energy farms in North Africa that can then be joined to Europe’s electricity grid.

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