In a communication outlining its proposed energy infrastructure priorities for the next two decades, the Commission says that it will identify specific projects in 2012 that could benefit from EU financing and that a total of EUR 200B is needed to upgrade Europe’s gas and electricity grids over the next ten years.

“Energy infrastructure is key to all our energy goals: from security of supply, the integration of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency to the proper functioning of the internal market,” said Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Energy. “It is therefore essential that we pull together our resources and accelerate the realisation of EU priority projects.”

Among the priority electricity grid corridors identified by the Commission are the construction of an offshore grid in the North Sea that will link offshore wind farms to both major consumption centres and large pumped storage hydro power plants in the Alps and Nordic countries, and the strengthening of the network in central eastern and south eastern Europe.

Three priority gas corridors have also been identified.

The priority corridors will help Europe to deliver on policy goals of competitiveness, sustainability and security of supply by connecting those member states that are almost isolated from other European energy markets, by massively strengthening existing cross-border interconnections and by integrating renewable energy into the network, says the Commission.

Other priority electricity corridors include the strengthening of interconnections in southwest Europe, and the integration of the Baltic energy market into the European market.

The Commission’s proposals have been largely welcomed by energy market players and environmental groups in particular have welcomed the prioritization of an offshore grid in the North Sea.

The Renewables Grid Initiative (RGI), a coalition of businesses and NGOs promoting grid integration of renewable energy, expressed concerns that the Commission’s communication does not provide for a predictable investment framework to expand renewables and energy-efficient technologies.

“Unfortunately, the document does not provide clear directions for investors, no indications of the desired infrastructure, nor a path for achieving the 2020 targets,” said Antonella Battaglini, executive director of RGI.