Ensuring European

#EnergySecurity

with reliable electricity

Modern society needs power. As decarbonisation accelerates, so will the use of clean electricity. It will be present everywhere and this calls for a renewed focus on security of supply.

Why is energy security so important

Beyond keeping the lights on, electricity today powers hospitals, data centers, agriculture and much more. Tomorrow, it will also fuel your car, heat your home and enable many more industrial processes. This, clearly, requires an increasing supply of electricity.

However, international events have put our countries’ energy security in jeopardy. Global geopolitical tensions, market interventions, extreme weather, cyber sabotage, procurement of raw materials and increasing power demand are putting energy security at risk. Meanwhile, our national energy systems are evolving with the expansion of renewable energy sources and technology developments bringing higher variability and increasing decentralisation.

This necessitates a change in the way we think about the energy system. Countries will need to introduce higher flexibility into their systems and enable system operators to gain more awareness over the state of our energy infrastructure and systems’ needs. They will need to support a much more intricate coordination of responsibilities within the system and they will need to ensure that the actors in this system have predictable sustainable revenues to keep them up and running.

Yet, European Member States’ come from a variety of national and regional situations. When addressing such complex issues, there will not be a one-size-fits all solution. Each challenge has its own specificities which reflect the reality on the ground and require tailored solutions that work for unique circumstances.

Learn more about energy security issues below.

The 2 dimensions of energy security

Energy security encompasses external AND internal security of supply risks to the power sector.

External risks: an increasingly challenging international context

Europe has become “the small countries” of the world, no longer just in terms of geographical size.

The global Balance of Power is shifting, putting the tectonic plates of geopolitics in motion and challenging “the small countries’” relative place in that world.

Global energy geopolitics

The epitome of geopolitics’ role in energy security is the developments that unfolded around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Already before the attack, and further on when the war broke out, Russia weaponised its energy supply by threatening to, and ultimately cutting oil and natural gas supplies to the Continent. The oil and gas crunch not only raised fears of rolling blackouts but also led to soaring energy prices due to natural gas being the price setter in wholesale electricity markets.

The European Commission’s REPowerEU plan has been the EU’s united answer to this emergency and has done a good job. According to Eurelectric’s Power Barometer 2023, in the winter of 2022-23, energy saving measures contributed to a 19% decrease in gas consumption compared to prior years. EU Member States’ united efforts and energy sobriety helped slash dependence on imported fossil fuels from Russia. But it doesn’t end there.

With international tensions flaring up in the Middle East and North Africa, much of the replaced oil and gas deliveries from Russia are now at risk as the Red Sea becomes a dangerous flash point. Already, ships bringing petroleum and liquified natural gas from Qatar are being diverted around Africa.

Meanwhile, green technologies are predominantly Asian, and under the influence of an increasingly mistrustful China and an increasingly protectionist United States. Delivering the electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electrolysers and other clean energy technologies needed for the energy transition could be subject to aggressive Chinese and American competition, supply chain disruptions, tariffs and preferential subsidies or export bans.

While political action can hedge against geopolitical disruption, we are not yet at a point of total energy sovereignty – as shown at Power Summit 2023 – Balance of Power. More must be done to shore this up.

Raw materials

Europe was burned once due to its overreliance on imported fossil fuels from a single country. As we transition from a fossil fuel-intensive energy system to raw materials-intensive one, we need to make sure this does not happen again. Already today, China, and Asia more broadly, controls much of the supply chain for the clean technologies needed for the energy transition. The raw materials to make these technologies are also held up in a select few locations around the globe. To avoid a Russian gas situation, diversification and access will be crucial.

Of course, the EU has already taken steps to address this. The Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) seeks to shore up the capacity of net-zero technology production in the EU and diversify the supply chains for delivering them to the Continent when we cannot meet our own demand. The Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) sets benchmarks for how much of the strategic raw materials needed for these technologies can be supplied by a single partner.

We give a nod to this effort in our net-zero industry manifesto. Both of the Acts can act as catalysts, reducing the red-tape that has been a major roadblock in delivering net-zero industries.

Extreme weather

A “less human”, but no less human-induced stress on energy security is extreme weather. While unavoidable natural disasters like the earthquakes in Türkiye in 2023 have and will always persist, climate change is making others more likely and more severe. Take the floods in Belgium and Germany in 2022 for example, or the forest fires in France and Greece in 2023. These events strain our energy sector, and can take our grids offline, making them a threat to energy security.

In late 2022, we launched our report on this subject, The Coming Storm, to dive into the issues of system resilience considering the impacts of climate change. The report finds that across the board, more extreme weather events – from heat waves and droughts to floods and cold spells – are expected across European countries. All assets in the value chain are going to be exposed to their devasting effects, from electricity generation and transmission to power distribution and the final customer.

With Grids for Speed launched at Power Summit 2024, we explored technologies that could help increase preparedness and real-time reaction to extreme weather events such as dynamic line ratings (DLR) and digital twins. Wired for Tomorrow, also launched at Power Summit 2024, dove deeper into digitalisation, charting a roadmap for how DSOs can leverage digital technologies to bolster grid capacity, efficiency, and especially resilience in an increasingly extreme world.

Renewable energy, the energy we will increasingly rely on to deliver energy security in Europe thanks to its domestic production, is also threatened as extreme weather makes wind, sun and water-based generation more unpredictable. Stable, dispatchable capacity such as nuclear complemented with flexible resources and a reinforced grid will be the cornerstone of a secure energy system in the future.

Cyber sabotage & digitalisation

Cyber Sabatoge

As geopolitical tensions simmer and international competition becomes more hostile, cyber sabotage is a more novel but nonetheless serious threat to energy security. Where a physical attack on energy infrastructure would naturally escalate to conflict, those staging a cyber attack can remain hidden in the fog of war. The uncertainty deters retaliation while also sending a strong message.

Eurelectric’s President, voiced his concerns in an article by Financial Times:

“In Germany, I clearly feel that if I really [am] subject to a successful attack, I’m on my own,”
Leonhard Birnbaum
President of Eurelectric and E.ON CEO

Such attacks are already being used by Russia in Ukraine to reach infrastructure that is physically out of reach. It is effective because it is hard to anticipate and nearly impossible to stop. Therefore, shoring up energy security in this domain means that preparedness will no longer need to take into account just how to mitigate the threat, it also has to account for what to do when it happens, and it needs to be a European united response.

Digitalisation

In the same realm, society around us is rapidly digitalising. The amount of data we generate every single day can be a threat and opportunity at the same time. Threat, as highlighted above, because it can be exploited by malicious actors. But as we highlighted in Wired for Tomorrow, it can also be an opportunity. But this comes with hurdles nonetheless. A skilled workforce will be needed to make the best use of the data and ensure security.

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The sheer volume of the threats facing our energy system can seem daunting. Some European countries, however, are already learning by doing, providing important lessons for the rest of Europe on how to tackle physical and cyber threats. Ukraine is a clear case in point.

Ukraine’s fight to keep the lights on – lessons learned

Ukraine has had to endure devastating attacks on its infrastructure from Russia’s missiles and beyond. But despite these attacks, the country has shown admirable resilience to these threats and even managed incredible feats, including the construction of a new onshore wind farm.

“The darkest day of Ukraine's power system – literally”

It was 10 October 2022, when Russia’s large-scale missile and drone attack began on Ukraine’s power infrastructure. On that day, 83 missiles were sent and 43 were downed.

Russia targeted mostly high-voltage and high-power transformers and power generation assets. DTEK, the Ukrainian utility, lost almost 40% of its generators in Ukraine because of this attack. Back then Ukraine did not have the air defense it has now.

But the darkest day for Ukraine’s power infrastructure was the 14-hour blackout experienced on 23 November 2022. After more than 70 cruise and ballistic missiles, Ukraine lost more than 3000 MW in less than 5 minutes. This triggered the frequency protection at the country’s nuclear power plants which were disconnected from the grid. During the blackout, hospitals continued to operate and perform surgeries under the lights of an iPhone.  

System operators managed to reassemble the Ukrainian grid within 14 hours, which is a record time considering the challenge and emergency faced.

“Our systems will no doubt face adversity and significant bumps in the road, however we cannot allow these challenges to stop our transition. Allow the system to fail but fail gracefully, in such a way that you can rebuild it very quickly.”
Vadym Utkin
Energy Storage Lead at DTEK at Power Summit 2023.

Two years on and the situation became graver. Maxim Timchenko, CEO of DTEK joined Power Summit 2024 with a situation report on the country’s energy system.

The fight for light

Since the Power Summit joined by Mr Timchenko in summer 2022, Ukraine’s situation deteriorated, but the fight for light continued.

“On 23 Novemebr 2022 we had a national blackout where we lost 90% of generation… We restored it in 24 hours”

The strategy has changed to. Russia went from targeting high-voltage grids to the more flexible thermal generation assets. Just five airstrikes took out 90% of thermal generation capacity. At the beginning of the war, DTEK had 40 power units online. As of Power Summit 2024, they had only just reconnected the fourth. These outages make it considerably harder to keep the lights on, meaning planned outages are a recurring reality.

”But I’m more confident than 2 years ago. We learned. How to face these challenges, what materials are needed.”

Synchronisation with the European grid has literally saved millions of lives. As winters approach, getting power to people is the difference between living to the new year or freezing in your own home. This has emphasised the role of preparedness for a new era. One where energy security cannot be taken for granted.

“In crisis what is needed is a clear plan.”
Maxim Timchenko
CEO of DTEK at Power Summit 2024

Internal risks: how can the electricity industry improve its security of supply?

The prior external challenges are increasingly intertwined with European energy security and our ability to deliver a reliable supply of electricity. This latter part – what is in the hands of the power sector – is what we call security of supply.

Security of supply is the part of energy security having to do with our industry directly. Put in technical terms, it is the stable and uninterrupted power supply at an affordable price for customers. In particular, interruptions of power supply should be maintained below a maximum of 3 hours per year – what experts called the “loss of load expectation” (LOLE).

In a context where electrification grows exponentially to reach 50% of the EU final energy consumption by 2040 – as expected by the European Commission – uninterrupted supply becomes paramount. Customers will ever more rely on secured supply of power for their transport, heating and industrial needs, and our industry is committed to ensure its delivery, as pledged in our Presidency Manifesto.

More importantly, we see security of supply as covering the various dimensions that the power sector can control. This includes things like:

1

Electrification: as we electrify society, we will need a lot more electricity to power our society. Our Decarbonisation Speedways study presents three decarbonisation scenarios for our economy and society. All scenarios point to clean and renewable power is the cost-efficient solution to curb emissions and reduce energy use thanks to its superior energy efficiency. Such an increase in demand for electricity and electrified solutions will lead to more complex grid management and a need for built-in flexiblilty.

2

Increasing decentralisation: the new energy system tends to be less centralised than traditional thermal generation, leading to more complex delivery of electrons to where they are needed. Grids for Speed highlights that that by 2030, EU countries will see around 50 to 60 million heat pumps, 65 to 70 million electric vehicles (EVs) and over 600 gigawatts of additional renewable capacity as foreseen by REPowerEU. Around 70% of that capacity is going to be directly connected to distribution grids which today faces scarce capacity, cumbersome permitting, and insufficient investments.

The power sector can take steps to address from where it sources inputs to the energy system. It can take steps to develop flexibility resources – such as hydropower, nuclear, CCGTs running on green molecules. It can also adapt to a system dominated by increasingly variable generation, provided firm and dispatchable generation remains available to the system and that grids are modernised, digitalised and expanded to support higher and more decentral electrification.

“We face a very different world than just a few years ago. Geopolitics, extreme weather, constrained access to raw materials and increased exposure to cyber attacks and sabotage are external threats that put pressure on the energy system of Europe. At the same time, the energy transition is driving electrification and increasing decentralisation of energy resources. We need solutions to address potential outages emanating from without and to modernise and balance the system from within. The security of supply equation is as complex and important as ever before.”
Kristian Ruby
Secretary General of Eurelectric

Eurelectric has all hands on deck to define solutions to these growing challenges and formulate solutions to the security of supply issues. Stay tuned for more developments!

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