EU intends to commit to 53 gas projects. This fails to deliver the modern clean energy infrastructure that Europe needs
The European Commission’s bi-annual list of cross-border energy infrastructure projects - the so-called Projects of Common Interest – show that the EU’s processes for planning energy infrastructure are still not geared towards a low carbon transition.
Despite a broad consensus that the EU’s need for gas will decline, the current list still foresees more than 50 gas projects. In fact, reduction to the previous number of 77 gas projects is mainly achieved through re-grouping projects rather than dropping them. It also includes a planned increase in the EU’s gas import capacity.
At the same time, there is a lack of focus on electricity grid modernisation, with only four ‘smart’ grid projects on the list.
Basing infrastructure planning on industry projections and assumptions that are out of step with the EU’s objectives on modernisation and decarbonisation, has once more set the EU up for a messy - or even failing - low carbon transition.
“The EU talks the talk on phasing out fossil fuels, but has still to learn how to walk the walk. It is depressing that yet again the EU continues to plan for using fossil fuels into the future, ignoring its commitments under the Paris climate change agreement. This could have been the chance for a new start.”
The European Commission has just published its third list of Projects of Common Interest, to be approved by the European Parliament. This list is defining the priority cross-border infrastructure for Europe’s electricity and gas grids.
The list was selected by the European Commission and EU Member States based on input prepared by the group of European gas and electricity transmission operators. For the first time, projects were tested against a scenario that was at least broadly compliant with the EU’s 2030 targets (“Green Revolution”), a significant step forward.
The objective was to bring the balance of projects gradually in line with the original expectations underlying the regulatory framework (“TEN-E regulation”). Its impact assessment had estimated some 100 projects in the field of electricity and 50 in the field of gas. But instead, the current process has proven to be inadequate to achieve the EU’s objective: to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels.
The proposed list still foresees 53 gas projects re-clustering the previous list to make it look like a reduction from 77. In fact, only 7 gas projects were dropped; 17 projects were re-grouped into 4. It includes a planned increase in the EU’s gas import capacity with new LNG terminals and pipelines, despite a broad acknowledgement of the EU’s vast infrastructure overcapacity.
With network infrastructure lifetimes often exceeding 40 years, this sets the EU up for a disorderly decline in the use of natural gas – or even locking into its future use. If built, these projects will be wasting valuable funds that could go to future-oriented, zero carbon technologies instead.
At the same time, there is a lack of prioritisation of electricity grid modernisation. The list still only includes four smart grid projects. A few years back, the Commission was hoping to have 75% of households installed with a smart meter by 2020, ACER recently reported this rate to be at 25%.
The significant investments by the gas lobby to set the EU up for fossil fuel lock-in have paid off. To counter incumbent influence and embark on an effective modernisation, there is a need for clear EU trajectories until 2050 in line with the Paris Climate Change agreement. The upcoming review of the European energy networks regulation (TEN-E) is an opportunity for the European Commission to adjust its processes significantly.
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