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Central Europe strives for a more interconnected energy sector

The Europen Commission presented its strategy for Energy System Integration at the beginning of this month aiming to accelerate the interconnectivity and flexibility of our energy system across multiple energy carriers, infrastructures and sectors.

The strategy encompasses three complementary and mutually reinforcing pillars. Firstly, a more circular energy system, with energy efficiency at its core. Secondly, greater direct electrification of end-use sectors and finally, the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen, for end-use applications where direct heating or electrification are not feasible.

Energy system integration has great potential to multiply efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sectors that are more difficult to decarbonise. As the Commission kickstarted its agenda for a more integrated European energy market, Central Europe is also considering different options of sector coupling as well as the potential use of hydrogen in the power generation, transport and industry. In fact, there are already a number of ongoing projects in the region, that will facilitate energy system integration and large-scale decarbonisation, as a report published by Central Europe Energy Partners (CEEP) demonstrates.

An analysis of Forum Energii shows that electrification will boost demand for electricity in Poland by about 70 TWh in 2050. When we add to this the increased demand from other sectors of the Polish economy, domestic energy consumption will rise from the current 170 terawatts per hour (TWh) to about 295 TWh.

This will require a fourfold increase in the capacity of generation units within the electric power system which is impossible based on the centralized model of energy market may.

“However, the paradigm of the sector’s functioning is shifting,” said Andrzej Rubczyński Director of Heating Strategy at Forum Energii. “Hence, it is not only the four national giants who will build the future energy sector, but also millions of potential investors, driven by different priorities and business models.”

The electrification of heating, industry, and transport, is underlying the concept of sector coupling, which will be the cornerstone of our way towards archiving climate neutrality.

“In a nutshell, we can say that all energy consumers take part in balancing the electric power system,” continued Mr Rubczyński. “This is the main advantage of sector coupling. But it has other important assets such as lower operating costs, expenditures on the extension of energy infrastructure and reduction of CO2 emissions.”

The analysis made by Forum Energii estimates that the integration of electrified transport and heating with the energy system using renewables will bring numerous benefits to Poland, such as reducing total operating costs of energy sectors by 75 billion euros per year, cutting CO2 emissions by about 250 million tonnes per year and reducing dependence on gas and oil imports.

Central Europe also shows a keen interest in building up its hydrogen economy. Although it’s still in its infancy, most of the countries in the region have already recognised the underlying potential in hydrogen technologies.

As Lithuania aims to feed 45 per cent of its total energy appetite from renewable resources by 2030 the country is actively looking for options to come out with economically viable energy storage solutions and to enable power grid balancing and seasonal storage, as well as the decarbonization of the gas sector.

Therefore, the Lithuanian electricity TSO Litgrid is carrying out a study that links ambitious national energy goals with possible technical solutions to integrate a growing fleet of renewable energy generators, one of which is power-to-gas solution.

According to Rolandas Zukas, CEO of EPSO-G, Lithuania’s holding of electricity and gas transportation systems Power-to-Gas technology in the form of utility-scale electrolysers and subsequent hydrogen integration can ease the transition towards deep decarbonisation, thanks to the ability of the gas grid to integrate varying geographies and scales, as well as admixtures of hydrogen into the grid.

However, EPSO-G hopes to see in the future a more clear pan-European framework and third-party rules considering different gas mixture compositions which would determine allowed hydrogen concentration at interconnection point.

Hydrogen is also gaining tractions in Romania. The Ministry of European Funds announcing a large-scale investment in an R&D hub aimed at accelerating the national implementation of hydrogen technologies. However, as Mihai Balan and Radu Dudau from the Energy Policy Group noted the sudden interest for hydrogen in Romania is lacking a robust foundation in policy analysis and planning, having been fueled almost entirely by the momentum that the topic has received at EU and international levels.

The integration of the energy system and the implementation of emerging technologies such as hydrogen will be crucial to delivering on the targets of the European Green Deal and Central Europe has a chance to take the opportunity and transform its energy infrastructure in the upcoming decades.

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