Distribution grids: the missing link of the energy transformation

Press Release

Distribution grids are the new centre of a decarbonised electricity system. As policymakers mull over a fit for purpose recovery plan, Eurelectric urges them to prioritise investments in a future proof electricity infrastructure. Optimised distribution grids coupled with flexibility sources, will be critical to deliver on the Green Deal’s carbon neutrality objectives.

Sales of electric vehicles rose in the first months of 2020 and new renewables capacities will come online this year, despite delays in the delivery of components caused by the coronavirus outbreak. This will add to the complexity of a decarbonised power system and will increase the need for flexibility. 

Already in the first quarter of 2020, renewables represented almost half of the generation mix, a 9% increase compared with 2019. The soaring wind and solar output cut the power sector’s CO2 emissions intensity by 20% versus last year, and led to reduced electricity imports in several European countries including Italy, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland.

But both onshore renewables and electric vehicles connect to the electric distribution grids. In some parts of Europe, these need reinforcements to integrate higher shares of renewables and tackle the balancing needs of an increasingly decentralised and decarbonised system.

The Trans-European Energy Regulation must now be revised to fit the needs of the future – this implies more focus and support for distribution investments. The restrictive eligibility criteria defined by the Trans-European Energy Regulation led to a strong focus on investments in transmission infrastructure for electricity and gas.

Over the past five years, smart grids have received 10 times less funds from the Connecting Europe Facility than gas networks or electricity transmission networks.

Kristian Ruby said: “with increased electrification and higher shares of renewable energy, the 2020s are going to be the decade of the distribution grids. Policy makers must urgently align legislation and funding with this new reality.”

The European Commission estimates that 60 to 110 billion € should be invested annualy in transmission and distribution systems, to enable a deep decarbonisation. Eurelectric is currently conducting a study to assess the exact investments needs at distribution level.

Eurelectric’s Policy recommendations for the revision of TEN-E Regulation identify 10 key aspects that need to be addressed urgently. They include, among others, the revision of the Ten Year Network Development Plan, the introduction of a robust climate assessment for the projects of common interest and the need to increase the smartness of the grids.