In order for Europe to reach its climate targets for 2020 and 2030, a massive expansion of the power grid is required. All over Europe, there is a significant need for improved and integrated transmission lines, carrying more power. In addition, the transition into renewables requires new lines, a restructuring of the grid, to transfer electricity from the place of production to usage. In order to fully optimize the potential of renewables, a better integration of energy markets is also required to exchange electricity across borders.
A growing public resistance across Europe towards new transmission lines inhibits this expansion of the grid. According to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity , one in three projects experience significant delays. People do not want the visual impact of the massive lattice towers, and worry about the effects on the flora and fauna and the expropriation of land.
The lack of public acceptance is a severe issue in influential Western European countries: Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. The delayed grid expansion projects in Germany are particularly problematic for making the improvements in the European grid, due to the country’s central location in Europe. For the surrounding countries, the disconnections in the grid mean problems arise when wanting to sell surplus energy abroad. This can increase the prices of renewable energy in a country, due to an excess supply. In the end, renewables can thereby become unprofitable and their support among the consumers can be undermined.
Using Germany as an example of the difficulties in Europe, a critical issue regarding the installation of new lines is the fact that the country consists of 16 individual states, with individual decision makers and ministries. Each have their own agendas as to how the expansion of the grid is handled. Furthermore, compared to most other countries that are covered by only one transmission system operator, Germany has four TSOs controlling separate areas of the country. This structure makes decision making and project execution across states and TSOs very complex and time consuming in this central part of Europe.
In Scandinavia, similar difficulties with lack of public acceptance have been solved by introducing new power pylon designs and involving the public in the process. Solving these issues has resulted in obtaining permission for the new lines. Today, pylons that are more visually appealing and technically superior have been installed in Denmark and Norway. In March this year, an important new 2x400 kilovolt line has been energized, connecting Denmark to Norway and Germany. In the UK, NationalGrid has also adopted a new design, the T-Pylon, by the Danish company BYSTRUP.
Europe faces a significant need for improvements in the transmission grid. At the same time, there are currently evident barriers towards achieving this.
Central to making progress on this issue is for the politicians, TSOs, and other stakeholders to become aware that there are proven alternatives available to the conventional lattice towers the public so deeply oppose.
The approach and advances made in Scandinavia and the UK can be applied to other projects - key stakeholders already agree increased public awareness and understanding is required to be successful in carrying out new projects. Along with the introduction of new and improved solutions, increased awareness would help improve public acceptance and accelerate the progress towards an integrated, efficient European power grid.
Erik Bystrup is the founder of BYSTRUP, a Danish architecture and planning firm.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment of a two-part series.