2030 target for onshore wind & solar still achievable – despite declining pace in materialisation of plans

The 2019 Climate Agreement set the goal of producing 35 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity from onshore solar and wind farms by 2030. This is still achievable, despite a slow down in concretisation of plans, concludes the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) in ‘Monitor RES 2022; a progress analysis of Regional Energy Strategies.

To achieve the target set in the Climate Agreement, 30 energy regions adopted Regional Energy Strategies (RESs) in 2021. No new RESs have been drawn up this year. This Monitor RES 2022, the fourth conducted by PBL, follows the regions as they implement their plans, and considers the national results in broader context.

Onshore wind and solar farms are expected to produce 41 TWh in 2030. This is a middle value in a range of 35 to 46 TWh and as much as last year’s estimate. Still, the capacity of the electricity grid, the spatial development of plans and the administrative support for the realisation of RESs are challenges for both the short and longer term.

Realisation proceeds, but ‘pipeline’ dries up

Realisation of projects for large-scale solar PV and onshore wind continued last year. Estimated electricity production in 2030 from operational, connected projects has grown by 4 TWh to 23 TWh. At the same time, the estimated production from ‘the pipeline’ of planned but not yet realised projects with grant decision and permit shrank by a similar 4 TWh. Together, estimated production from operational and ‘pipeline’ projects amounts to 31 TWh in 2030. The plans in the RES 1.0 adopted in 2021 add up to 55 TWh: well above the target of 35 TWh.

However, progress in materialising the intended plans is stagnating. Indeed, for many of these initiatives, the processes surrounding social and administrative support, spatial planning, financing or obtaining a connection to the grid have not yet been completed or even started. At the same time, a higher realisation than 35 TWh would fit well with a faster growing demand for renewable electricity due to high gas prices and greening of the economy in line with the European Commission’s REPowerEU plans.

Network bottlenecks require coordination and prioritisation

Limits to electricity grid capacity (grid congestion) are now a structural obstacle in the implementation of RES plans, PBL points out. In the short term, this means that fewer and fewer new large-scale solar parks can get a connection to the grid. Short-term solutions focus on more efficient use of the existing grid. For the longer term, network operators also intend to roughly double their annual investments for reinforcing their networks between 2020 and 2030 compared to the decade before. In summer 2022, the national grid congestion task force was set up to reduce grid problems.

Getting cooperation going

Taking the long term into account, it is important for the development and elaboration of RESs in the coming years that ‘interplay’ is initiated between all parties involved in the realisation of wind and solar installations. Processes surrounding obtaining a grid connection, licensing, financing and involving citizens are currently insufficiently interlinked, which can delay projects.

Tension between speed and integral consideration

The RES policy process has been strengthened and clarified over the past year. New or amended RES plans are subject to an environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirement. This EIA requirement benefits careful spatial planning of RESs. As a national programme, the RES is entering a new phase, focusing on the spatial elaboration and implementation of plans into projects. It is now up to the municipalities to elaborate and translate the RES ambitions into concrete visions, implementation plans and projects. At the same time, the provinces have been asked, within the ‘NOVEX‘ programme, to take the lead in working out an integral spatial approach to national, regional and local living environment issues. These developments offer opportunities, but may also create tension between speed and an integral consideration of renewable energy with other environmental issues.

Inspiration from abroad

A regional approach to renewable electricity production is not a uniquely Dutch invention. This is shown by an analysis of renewable energy policies in five European countries. Cooperation between governments on a regional level, whether or not supported and coordinated nationally, takes place in several countries. The examples from abroad show that energy regions offer opportunities to increase local support and organise knowledge exchange between decentralised authorities in a systematic way. Source: PBL

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