Europe’s Grids Underestimate Wind and Solar Potential: Report

Of the 26 grid plans reviewed, 11 inaccurately forecast wind and solar deployment


Integrating renewable energy sources in Europe’s energy landscape is crucial to achieving sustainability and combating climate change. However, a recent report by energy think tank EMBER Climate underscores a concerning trend: many national grid plans underestimate the potential of wind and solar deployment, posing a significant risk to the seamless integration of renewables.

Out of the 26 grid plans scrutinized, 11 fall short in accurately projecting wind and solar deployment compared to national targets. This discrepancy raises alarms about the ability of transmission networks to adequately accommodate the anticipated surge in renewable energy installations.

Furthermore, a concerning estimate emerges: by 2030, approximately 205 GW of solar capacity could encounter grid congestion due to 19 out of 23 national grid plans failing to meet the benchmarks set by SolarPower Europe’s business-as-usual scenario.

Compounding these challenges is the underestimation of annual grid investment, as highlighted by REPowerEU, signaling a gap of at least €5 billion (~$5.4 billion). This shortfall underscores the need for additional spending to ensure that grids are sufficiently equipped to support energy policy objectives.

The report examines the status and potential advancements of national transmission grids across Europe in the context of energy transition. Evaluating data from transmission networks spanning 35 European countries, including the EU-27, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and the Western Balkans, the analysis uncovers a disconcerting reality: several grid plans hinge on conservative energy scenarios.

This conservative approach risks leaving transmission networks ill-prepared to accommodate the projected expansion of wind and solar energy installations, thereby impeding the progress of the energy transition.

An analysis of 35 national grid development plans from European Transmission System Operators (TSOs) reveals that planned network developments often fall behind understanding the realities of the energy transition.

Key recommendations

  • Political prioritization of grids: It is essential to drive the critical role of power grids in achieving EU energy and climate objectives within the political agenda. This will bolster political support and financing, accelerating ongoing and planned projects. The Grids Action Plan, issued in November 2023, is a significant step in this direction.
  • Revision of regulatory frameworks: National legislation often mandates TSOs to base their network planning on energy scenarios aligned with energy targets. These mandates should be revised to encourage TSOs to use scenarios reflecting ongoing policy discussions and market trends. This flexibility is crucial for future-proofed planning and aligning with updated ambitions.
  • Increased oversight and scrutiny of network plans: Given grids’ pivotal role in energy security and the transition, additional oversight in planning and development is necessary. Regulators should ensure adequate investment for grid development, expansion, and reinforcement, aligning with decarbonization goals. Assigning net-zero mandates to regulators in relevant countries would enhance oversight.
  • Reporting transparency and standardization: Mandating TSOs to regularly publish data on key indicators, including grid connection queues and planned investments, is vital. More comprehensive data is needed to assess alignment between grid investments and power system targets. Standardized publication of energy scenarios to identify grid investments would enable better scrutiny.
  • Placing clean power at the core of grid planning: Future grid planning scenarios must align with a predominantly clean power system across Europe by 2040 to meet climate commitments. Action 2 of the Grids Action Plan emphasizes ensuring sufficient electricity transmission projects to meet infrastructure needs from 2030 to 2050. This includes preparing national transmission networks beyond interconnection.

Recently, Europe’s power industry called for ramping up investments in aging grid infrastructure by 84% every year until 2050. In its Power Barometer 2023 report, Eurelectric highlighted the importance of upgrading grid infrastructure to achieve renewable energy objectives.

Europe will need to invest over $32 trillion in energy and related technologies to achieve a net-zero economy by 2050, according to BloombergNEF.