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Ready, Set, Go: Europe’s race for wind and solar

The renewables industry has been flagging the time delays from administrative barriers for years. This was recently acknowledged by the European Commission in its recommendation on speeding up the permitting process. EU law — specifically the 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED) — already states that permit granting should take no more than two years, but adherence to this is rare.

According to information collected from developers and industry bodies, solar permitting times range from 12 months in Lithuania to 48 months in Croatia. Of the 12 countries with available information, only three (Belgium, Lithuania, Romania) had permitting times less than the EU limit of 24 months. Combined, these 12 countries account for 91% of current installed solar capacity.

Onshore wind permits take even longer, ranging from 30 months in Romania to 120 months in Croatia. None of the 18 countries analyzed were below the 24 month limit stated in the RED. Together, those countries make up 96% of current installed wind capacity.

Common issues with permitting include lack of digitization in the overall process, lack of resources within local authorities, delays caused by legal appeals and overlap of responsibility amongst different authorities.

The upcoming amendment of the Renewable Energy Directive should support ideas suggested in REPowerEU, such as ‘go-to’ zones for renewable projects where permitting shall not exceed one year, and designating renewable projects as “overriding public interest” to allow simpler administrative procedures. Any final agreement should, however, adequately address environmental impact and social and biodiversity concern. It is also equally important to enforce the legislation that is already in place, namely the two year limit that was set in the Renewable Energy Directive already in 2018.

Multiple gigawatts of European renewable capacity are being delayed due to administrative barriers. In Poland, for example, up to 20GW of solar capacity is waiting for grid connection permits. With quicker permitting times and the necessary grid upgrades, these projects could be unlocked, helping in the reduction of Russian gas consumption, lowering electricity prices and improving Europe’s energy security.