BRUSSELS, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Europe's electricity grids cannot keep up with the continent's rapid expansion of renewable energy, and are becoming the main bottleneck to getting more clean energy into the network, the continent's power lobby has warned.
Power grids are built to handle some more capacity than is immediately needed - creating a slack in the system that has so far allowed them to absorb Europe's rapid expansion of clean energy production.
"In the past, we have expanded the share of renewables, basically by leveraging the reserves that we had in the existing infrastructure," said Leonhard Birnbaum, head of power industry body Eurelectric.
"In more and more regions of Europe, we've just used up the reserves," he told Reuters in an interview. "The grid is becoming more and more the bottleneck."
The result is a queue of renewable energy projects waiting to plug in to the network. Spain and Italy each have more than 150 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity awaiting a grid connection, Bloomberg New Energy Finance data shows.
Spain had a total 20GW of solar power capacity installed as of 2022.
The European Commission is drafting plans, due to be published this month, to attempt to drive more grid investments.
More than 40 power interconnection projects are also poised to win EU "Projects of Common Interest" (PCI) status, making them eligible for fast-tracked permits and certain EU funds, under a draft list of PCI projects seen by Reuters - which could still change before it is published later this month.
Birnbaum, who is also CEO of E.ON, Europe's biggest energy network operator, said firms like his are being "flooded with connection requests" from power generators.
At the same time, companies are racing to retool networks to move power in different directions, as an expanding fleet of rooftop solar panels feed power back into the grid from consumers' own homes.
Brussels estimates grid investments of 584 billion euros per year are needed until 2030 to meet green goals. Much of that is expected to come from private sources or be paid for through grid tariffs. (Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Alexander Smith)