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How Ready Are Europe's Grids for Solar PV Interconnection?

A consortium of European solar groups has updated its data looking at project development processes across Europe, offering a comparative analysis of which countries have the "smartest" processes for PV developers to get projects running and feeding into the grid.

Funded by the European Commission's Intelligent Energy for Europe (IEE) program, PV GRID was launched in May 2012 (running until October 2014) to identify and reduce administrative barriers to large-scale integration of solar PV into Europe's electricity distribution grids. It builds on progress made by the PV LEGAL project (July 2009-Feb. 2012), which ultimately identified four main areas of barriers hampering PV installations in Europe: permitting procedures, grid connection rules and technical standards, grid connection procedures, and grid capacity issues. (Note that most of the administrative hurdles to large-scale solar PV integration focus on grid integration.) PV LEGAL also created an online free database tracking information about processes, legal resources, and costs and time required to complete each step in development of a PV system.

When PV LEGAL was about to end, its participants agreed work must go on to "find solutions at the national and Europe-wide level, to these barriers to PV development and large-scale integration," explained Marie Latour, senior national policy advisor for the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). All recognized the need to "research more deeply the grid aspects, to keep the research methodology" developed during PV LEGAL efforts, and extend to focus on "more grid integration matters at the distribution level."

PV GRID's action plan is in four work projects. Its main focus will be in the work performed by three working groups in which project partners and external experts will address technical issues "on a trans-national level" concerning network/consumer, PV systems, and grid expansion and operation. Separate "work packages" will update/maintain/extend/ the PV LEGAL database, and manage and review project activities and results. A fourth and final work package will discuss and disseminate the project results within the region to spur implementation of its recommendations.

PV GRID participants are looking in detail at grid-related issues, "not just observing the problem but working with grid experts and operators, looking at why they have difficulties," Latour said. "Working to find the right solutions at the lowest cost possible for everyone — that's one of the key issues to integrating PV."

As a first step, the PV GRID consortium has updated PV LEGAL's comprehensive online public database, which gathers detailed data on project development processes in 16 EU countries. Criteria include overall project or individual standardized processes — from site selection to permitting, system construction, commissioning, financing, and operation — and can be sliced across process duration/time, cost, and even labor (man-hour) requirements. Colors reflect the rapidity of each step in the PV project interconnection process, from best to worst in a logical green-yellow-red scheme.

Data can also be compared across countries. For example: the overall project process for a 50 kWp commercial system takes anywhere from 5-15 weeks (average: 9 weeks) in Germany, vs. 72-84 weeks (average: 78) in Spain, 33-49 weeks (average: 39) in France, and 16-27 weeks (average: 23) in Slovakia. Meanwhile, the "administrative processes" involved in a 2.5 MWp project aren't much different duration-wise between Germany, Spain, and Greece (32-39 weeks), but the grid connection permitting process can take twice as long on average in Germany vs. Spain (19 weeks vs. 8) and nearly 10 times as long in Greece (71).

Latour says the PV GRID database will be helpful for developers, national administration/policymakers, and grid operators, quickly illustrating the ease (or difficulty) in the authorization processes and grid-related requirements for PV system development. "Developers can say, 'from this I have been able to start a project in a country, because I could find how much time I'll need, what regulations are applied,'" Latour explained.

PV GRID will issue an initial project report in April, and a working paper in May will prioritize technical solutions for integrating solar PV projects into grids. Another major update to the online database will be issued in June 2013, illustrating progress in each country. An advisory paper scheduled for November will offer recommendations for regulatory and normative procedures; a final project report will be issued in the fall of 2014. The EPIA will disseminate the project in Europe both region-wide and on a national level; Germany's Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar) also has a coordinating role. Other participants include 13 national PV industry associations across Europe, several distribution system operators, a management consultancy, and a Spanish university. The IEE is financing up to 75% of the PV GRID project.


National PV framework assessment by average process duration per segment: residential (left),
commercial (middle), and industrial ground-mounted (right). Source: PV GRID Database

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