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European Commission backs French state aid plan for ‘super grid’ research

Out-Law News | 17 Sep 2014 | 4:17 pm | 1 min. read

The European Commission has approved an €86.6 million French state aid plan to support a ‘super grid’ research programme to develop innovative long distance energy transmission networks.

The Commission said the aid for the ‘SuperGrid energy transition institute’ complies with European Union rules on state aid and “will promote important European objectives such as securing energy supplies and protecting the environment without unduly distorting competition”.

EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: “Securing energy independence and reducing CO2 emissions in Europe are key priorities for the Commission. The super grid project pursues these very objectives. The project will have an undeniable scientific impact, while the distortions of competition will be limited.”

The Commission said the aid from France would give enterprises “a necessary and sufficient incentive to change their behaviour and carry out a project they would not otherwise have undertaken. Given the openness of the technology markets and the scope for exploiting the intellectual property rights arising from the project, there was no risk of competition being distorted."

Proposed super grid networks will use “high-voltage direct and alternating current, up to one million volts, designed for the large-scale transmission of energy from renewable sources, many of them off-shore, that are far from the centres of consumption”, the Commission said.

The transmission networks, together with “flexible storage facilities, will make it possible to manage the intermittent nature of renewables and will ensure network stability and security”, the Commission said.

In 2013, France notified the Commission of its plans to grant the €86.6m subsidy to SAS SuperGrid of France, a start-up firm established to manage the public-private partnership created for the research project. The Commission said its decision to support the aid was in line with EU guidelines on aid for research, development and innovation adopted in May 2014.

Research and development (R&D) work is needed into long-distance energy transmission, including a new generation of cables, new transformers and storage and stabilisation technologies, the Commission said. Six public organisations and six private partners will support the R&D projects after which, if successful, patent licences will be sold to interested industrial firms on market terms, the Commission said.

According to the Commission, the global super grid market comprises network electro-technical systems, energy flow management systems, and cables, which will enable the targeting of related sectors “in particular the rail transport power-train market and the variable‑speed hydraulic pump-turbine market”.