Ambitious interconnection plans could transform Europe

The EU’s Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) has awarded the first 15 of a total 34 energy infrastructure projects that will receive a cumulative funding of €647 million ($720 million) to cover expenses for their preliminary studies (e.g. regulatory or environmental studies).

The projects, said the European Commission, aim to upgrade existing and develop new energy transmission infrastructure required to promote Europe’s energy security and "will also support the deployment of large-scale renewable energy".

All 34 projects are part of the 248 Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) selected by the European Commission to step up the bloc’s internal energy market. PCIs may benefit from accelerated licensing procedures, improved regulatory conditions and access to funding totaling €5.85 billion between 2014 and 2020. The first tranche of financial support (€647 million) allocated to PCIs regards the 34 projects is to be awarded by INEA.

PCIs are divided into three broad categories: electricity infrastructure, gas infrastructure and smart grids. Of the recently awarded projects, the following two stand out for their ambition and potential effectiveness in the electricity sector.

Linking France to UK

ElecLink is one of the first 15 project grants approved by INEA. The project regards the interconnection between Coquelles, France and Folkestone, U.K. and aims to build a 1 GW interconnector of approximately 70 km passing through the Channel Tunnel to link the 400kV grids in both countries.

Funding approved by INEA will help "to complete a set of studies required to obtain the permits, authorizations, certain regulatory exemptions and financing that will allow the construction work to begin", while "furthermore, an Interconnector Access Agreement will be developed and finalized", said the European Commission.

The U.K.’s energy policy specifically has been the subject of heavy criticism for hurrying to establish a capacity market that allocates millions to fossil fuel plants without adequately examining alternative options such as interconnection to neighboring countries and improvement of the energy demand side.

France’s policy decision to reduce the share of nuclear power in the country’s electricity generation mix from 75% to 50% by 2025 means the ElecLink project will prove beneficial.

Presently, France and the U.K. are connected via an existing 2 GW link.

Greece – Cyprus – Israel interconnection

Plans for an electricity grid linking Greece, Cyprus and Israel have been largely discussed in the Greek and Greek-Cypriot press, and have been attracting plenty of enthusiasm. In May, INEA approved funding concerning the design, implementation and environmental studies of the so-called EuroAsia Interconnector.

The EuroAsia Interconnector PCI aims to support the building of an approximately 1,518 km-long 400 kV grid line with a capacity of around 2 GW between Hadera in Israel and the region near Athens in Greece.

The studies approved by INEA will specifically define the technical and technological solution and assess the possible environmental impact of the project. They "will also select the preferred route corridor (among those already pre-defined) and provide useful results for the cable engineering", said the European Commission.

The EuroAsia Interconnector is largely ambitious in that it is aiming to interconnect Europe with Asia, extending the European energy market beyond Europe’s borders. It can also be hugely effective for Israel and Cyprus since both countries are energy islands; neither Israel’s nor Cyprus’ electricity networks are linked to neighboring countries.

The interconnector will also benefit Greece. The country’s previous administration had fought for the project to be included in the PCIs list saying that it could strengthen it geopolitically and improve the economy, introducing competition in the energy market, and thus reducing the overall electricity costs.

However, Greece’s new government does not seem quite so enthusiastic. The recent INEA decision was ignored by the press office of the Greek energy ministry, which publishes press releases on various minor issues. Greece’s new administration is also very protective of the national electricity incumbent, the PPC utility, and fights the European Commission plans for increasing energy competition.

Currently, the EuroAsia Interconnector seems more politically troubled than technically. But since governments continuously change and Greece specifically appears to have national elections every two years or so, this largely significant plan may likely materialize.