Posted: 21 May 2015
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A powerful union

Power grids across the continent are becoming increasingly interconnected as Europe looks to make energy greener, cheaper and more secure for all its citizens. John Walsh, National Grid’s Strategy Development Manager, explores how European co-operation can deliver big benefits inside, as well as outside, our borders.

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A powerful union

A powerful union

A DC subsea cable; just one of the ways in which Europe is becoming more connected as an energy market.

“The work of CORESO took centre stage during the recent solar eclipse.”

John Walsh, National Grid’s Strategy Development Manager.


ENTSO-E, the European Network of Transmission System Operators (Electricity), brings together 41 transmission system operators (TSOs) across 34 countries and is responsible for developing network codes, to allow an efficient energy market to function across Europe.

Source: National Grid.

Europe’s electricity grids are growing ever more connected and the European Commission is committed to creating a single energy union based on a fully integrated internal energy market. Greater interconnectivity brings us closer together as neighbouring grids trade power and we’re compelled to co-operate on events that affect us all, such as the recent solar eclipse.

A fully integrated internal energy market promises significant benefits. With the right infrastructure in place, we’ll be able to use the full potential of sustainable generation, making it easier to import and export. It will improve security of supply, make energy prices more affordable and deliver environmentally friendly energy to people and businesses across the continent.

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John Walsh, National Grid’s Strategy Development Manager.

If all this sounds like a future pipe dream, it might surprise you that there’s already a huge amount of collaboration going on across Europe between transmission system operators (TSOs) like National Grid. Co-ordination and interconnectivity are important words to TSOs.

Uniting the market

A good place to start when we’re talking about energy union is interconnectivity. This is the technology – such as cross-border overhead transmission lines and submarine cables – that binds us all together as a united European energy market.

For energy to flow freely across the EU, countries need to have their supplies interconnected. Essentially, enough energy from cheaper, sustainable sources must be able to move quickly from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.

Interconnection is growing all the time and the European Council last year called for all Member States to have electricity cables in place that would allow at least 10% of the electricity that could be produced by their power plants to be transported across its borders to – and from – neighbouring countries by 2020.

National Grid is currently connected to continental Europe with two main interconnectors (to the Netherlands and France), with three more on the way by 2020 (Norway, Belgium and a second interconnector to France). Work is also progressing to develop additional interconnector projects, which will deliver significant benefits to consumers. These projects include opportunities for interconnection with Iceland, Denmark and further links with France.

High-voltage grids

Europe’s high-voltage grids are already highly interconnected and the effects of real-time operation can be seen by all other countries on the continent. Major generation faults in one country cause other grids to react.

Another key characteristic of the European landscape is the unique nature of each TSO’s generation portfolio and power demands. While France currently gets most of its power from nuclear reactors, for example, Germany and Spain have pursued renewable generation and are more reliant on solar PV and wind generation. Norway, on the other hand, makes use of its natural resources and has high levels of flexible hydro electricity.

Each TSO also has unique energy demands. France, for example, has a huge reliance on electricity to power heating appliances in winter, so their demand for electricity is almost twice that of the UK in winter months.

Fluctuating generation

Renewable generation, by its nature, is subject to a fluctuating generation pattern. On a sunny, windy day, you’ll see lots of power generated. But on another day, with less favourable weather conditions, a system operator might need to look outside its borders to meet demand.

Clearly, such a huge and complex operating grid requires co-ordinated and intelligent management at a regional level, and this is carried out by organisations called Regional Security Co-ordination Initiatives (RSCIs).

The first of these to be established was CORESO, of which National Grid is one of five shareholders. It was founded in Brussels in 2009 and has been an important development in delivering a secure and co-ordinated European grid.

CORESO stands for Co-ordination of Electricity System Operators. It enables member TSOs to maintain optimal security of supply by providing them with advice developed at European regional level to complement their national data.

A major role of CORESO is to manage the cross-border interconnector capacities, to ensure TSOs can safely transfer energy to each other under all conditions.

Managing our system

National Grid’s engineers at the UK’s Electricity National Control Centre (ENCC) liaise daily with CORESO to share operational information, such as the need for cross-border balancing products, peak demand declarations and potential operating margin issues. CORESO also provides us with operational intelligence on unexpected market activity, which all helps us to shape the way we manage our system here in the UK.

The work of CORESO took centre stage during the recent solar eclipse. Thanks to a huge amount of planning and co-ordination between CORESO and individual system operators, Europe successfully kept the lights on as the eclipse moved across Europe.

Security of the system

Another important abbreviation in European grid operations is ENTSO-E, the European Network of Transmission System Operators (Electricity).

It brings together 41 TSOs across 34 countries and is responsible for developing network codes, which are the set of common rules needed to allow an efficient energy market to function across Europe. It’s also in the process of delivering a 10-year network development plan, which identifies future transmission system investment.

Based on the success of CORESO and the other RSCIs, ENTSO-E is also taking forward a proposal that will extend the Regional Security Co-ordination model across the whole of Europe.

National Grid’s commitment to Europe and involvement with CORESO brings wider benefits. For a start, we gain vital operational intelligence from CORESO. If we see changes on our interconnectors, for example, we can go to them and find out why there was a change in flow. This information allows us to manage our risk better going forward.

As a key stakeholder with CORESO, we also supply engineers to work at their control hub in Brussels. Having our own engineers on board gives us an opportunity to directly influence technical and commercial developments at a European level. The engineers also return from their assignments to our business with unique skills and knowledge and an understanding of what it takes to manage a co-ordinated European grid.

Cultural differences

Each European TSO has its own distinctive challenges, network characteristics, renewable generation portfolio and even culture. Being part of CORESO and co-ordinating with Europe more generally helps us integrate, share best practice and operate the European grid in a safe and secure way that benefits all our customers and stakeholders.

It’s an exciting time for the European electricity market and our growing energy union promises to get stronger. As it becomes easier to move cheaper, sustainable bulk power across our borders, all our customers will see a surge of benefits. We’re stronger together.

Read more:

Alan Foster, Director of European Business Development, explains the role of interconnectors in improving security of electricity supply.

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