Priorities in the North Sea Grid Debate

SEFEP staff: Raffaele Piria, April 2012

This report analyses the North Sea Grid debate in view of promoting a deep decarbonisation of the European power sector based on the transition to high shares of renewables.

A North Sea Grid (NSG) is not an end in itself. Physically, it is a means to two functions: connection of offshore renewable generation (wind or ocean energy), and interconnection between power systems. Any benefit of a NSG is a result of one or both these functions. As a political concept, the NSG is used with changing meanings. This openness may have contributed to the broad acceptance of the concept, but the vagueness may confuse the debate on its implementation. The two functions of a NSG can be fulfilled by:

- Separate, stand-alone connections for wind (including wind hubs) and for interconnection
- Integrated configurations combining both

The status quo is based on stand-alone elements. The technical feasibility and the economic attractiveness of an integrated NSG are likely to be proven in the next years, but still need to be demonstrated in practice.
To support the development of a North Sea Grid, a three-track strategy is necessary:

  1. Accelerate stand-alone large scale offshore wind deployment
  2. Accelerate construction of urgent bilateral interconnection capacities
  3. Pave the way now for an integrated NSG to be potentially built in the next decade, if it turns out to be feasible and attractive

A good balance between the three must be found: while pursuing stand-alone elements, reasonable amounts of anticipatory investments are needed to avoid lock-ins. On the other hand, the integrated NSG should not be pursued at the cost of delaying urgent stand-alone investments. If a prioritisation is necessary, offshore wind should be chosen: there is less risk that Europe gets stuck for a long period in an unbalanced situation with “too much” offshore wind and too little interconnection than vice versa. Moreover, the capacity gap between today and 2050 is much higher for offshore generation than for interconnection.

For the EU and/or North Sea level, seven main goals for political work have been identified:

  1. High level commitment to ambitious and binding 2030 renewables targets
  2. Promote a balanced framing of priorities in the North Sea Grid discussion, avoiding to focus on only one of its element or to presenting it as an end in itself
  3. Decouple the urgent debate on regulatory framework to kick-off a few demonstration projects from the more challenging but less urgent framework for a full-fledged integrated NSG
  4. Decouple the debate on coordinated support schemes for the minority of offshore wind farms for which cross-national coordination of support schemes is required, from the general debate on harmonising support schemes for all renewables or for offshore wind in general
  5. Ensure sufficient EU (and Member States) budget is dedicated to demonstration projects specifically designed to demonstrate the feasibility of an integrated NSG grid
  6. Favour progress of a well working EU-wide cost sharing regime for cross-border transmission infrastructure that benefits several countries
  7. Strengthen the NSCOGI (North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative) and build up commitment of political leaders

Beyond the work on the EU level, SEFEP has focused its analysis on Norway and Germany.

The report can be downloaded here. Contact: Raffaele Piria (email, website).

 

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