Source: mauritius images/imageBROKER/Frank Röder

© mauritius images/imageBROKER/Frank Röder

Power grid expansion is a central concern of energy policy. Power line construction is a key prerequisite for expanding electricity generation from renewable energies, especially wind power. It is also crucial to paving the way for European competition on the electricity market. To be able to implement the European internal market in electricity, power grids also need enlarging in Germany as the most important market and largest transit country for electricity in the EU.

In addition to power line construction, however, power grids themselves also need modernising. We need more efficient and more intelligent grids in Germany and Europe to make sure that fluctuating electricity generation from wind power and solar energy does not jeopardise grid stability.

The only way to ensure stable grid operation and reliable energy supply is with efficient and modern transmission and distribution systems.

This is why in February 2011 the Federal Economics Ministry launched the permanent Energy Grids Platform, where the main stakeholders - grid operators, central government and federal state agencies and associations - prepare joint proposals for expanding and modernising power grids.

The Platform focuses its work on the following thematic priorities:

  • Social acceptance of power line construction
  • Planning and approval procedures for power lines
  • Regulatory framework for investments in grids
  • Grid connection of offshore wind farms
  • Developing smart grids and meters
  • Maintaining secure grid operation
  • Grid development plans

The Energy Grids Platform carries out its work at regular plenary meetings and in four thematic working groups.

The new structure of the Energy Grid Platform; Source: BMWi Enlarge

The new structure of the Energy Grid Platform

© BMWi

Plenary

At regular sessions chaired by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the Plenary draws up specific recommendations for action to be taken by policymakers for the expansion, modernisation and secure operation of power grids. Besides the Federal Economics Ministry, the permanent membership of the Plenary comprises the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), representatives of the federal states, grid operators, trade and industry and consumer associations, environmental organisations, the German Energy Agency (dena) and local authority associations.

At its latest meeting on 12 Sept. 2014, the Plenary looked at conversion and expansion needs in German distribution systems. Its outcome paper is available here (PDF: 250 KB).

At its last meeting on 9 September 2015, the plenary session considered the Network Development Plan confirmed by the Federal Network Agency on 4 September 2015 and the Offshore Network Development Plan for target year 2024. Also, the plenary session was presented with the envisaged rules on peak shaving of renewable energy installations for grid planning purposes. These provisions of the draft Electricity Market Act are intended to reduce the costs of expanding the power grid. You can find the results of the plenary session (in German) here (PDF: 21 KB).

Working Groups

The four working groups prepare recommendations for action to modernise and expedite the expansion of power grids and ensure their secure and efficient operation. At their regular meetings, they deal with pressing questions to do with grid expansion and security and prepare measures, strategies and action recommendations for discussion in plenary sessions. Where necessary, the thematic focus of the working groups can be adapted in response to priority issues of grid expansion, modernisation and security.

Grid development plan working group

National large-scale projects, such as the construction of extra high-voltage lines, are often very lengthy processes lasting up to ten years. Delays will jeopardise renewables expansion in Germany, supply security and the convergence of electricity markets in Europe.

The working group frames proposals for speeding up planning and approval procedures. It collaborated, for example, in drafting the Grid Expansion Acceleration Act (NABEG) adopted in the summer of 2011. One intention of NABEG is to substantially shorten planning and approval procedures from ten to four years by bundling responsibilities at BNetzA, with citizens and associations involved in planning at the earliest possible stage.

The Federal Government's Energy Concept attaches prime importance to accelerating the expansion of offshore wind power to a capacity of 25 gigawatts by 2030. The total investment outlay is estimated at EUR 75 billion. Connecting offshore wind farms to the grid, however, poses considerable challenges for wind turbine and grid operators. To cope with the larger capacities and longer distances from the coast as planned in future, new ways will have to be found for making the connection with the onshore grid. The expansion plans must also take account of the sensitive ecosystem in the Wadden Sea.

The working group therefore makes recommendations for harnessing the potential of offshore wind farms more rapidly. Major proposals so far have been the joint grid connection of offshore wind farms and the need for an offshore masterplan, which have been adopted in the Grid Expansion Acceleration Act (NABEG).

Other issues include the supervision and discussion of the national (offshore) grid development plans and scenario frameworks to be drawn up every year by the transmission system operators, new technologies for transmission systems and scope for public participation in projects.

Regulation working group

The expansion and modernisation of power grids call for both large investments and groundbreaking innovations. The right framework needs to be put into place for this.

The working group has set itself the task of appraising the regulatory requirements for grid operators and proposing amendments where necessary. The most cost-efficient solutions must be found to meet technical challenges. The working group discussion agenda includes aspects of regulating incentives and grid charges.

Smart grids and meters working group

Transforming its energy supply system is one of the great current and future challenges facing Germany. Because it fluctuates due to weather conditions, electricity infeed from wind- powered and photovoltaic installations in particular places heavier demands on the power grid's ability to strike a continuous balance between production and consumption within the system, that is, to keep it secure and stable. So-called smart grids in combination with smart meters will in future be able to match fluctuating renewable energy supply better with demand. The smart grid is conceived as a modernised power grid that facilitates mutual digital communication between suppliers and consumers with the help of intelligent metrology and monitoring systems able to receive and transmit information (smart meters). This way, smart grids and meters will be able to control the direct interaction and exchange between electricity customers and suppliers. They will enable users to better control the consumption and reduce the cost of electricity. Smart meters could possibly receive price signals and switch electrical appliances on and off accordingly. Cold-storage depots, for example, could plan to draw more electric power in phases of cheap supply to make a large reduction in operating temperature. They could then rely on this cooling buffer during periods of higher electricity prices. This kind of specific demand control would also afford new scope for grid operators to stabilise the power grid in response to fluctuating electricity generation.

The working group therefore aims to draft a development plan for introducing smart meters and modernising distribution systems to set up an efficient smart grid. It seeks to identify the general set of technical, socio-economic, legal and policy conditions for this and then define the necessary measures. Relevant discussion topics include:

  • Assuring data protection and security and equipping smart grids and meters with the necessary technical devices
  • Competencies and scope of grid operators and market actors in the smart grid
  • Possibilities for reducing grid expansion needs in conjunction with the intelligent conversion of distribution systems

The working group's expertise fed into a regular exchange of information with the consortium of experts which produced a study on the need for adaptation and expansion of Germany's distribution grid in response to the energy transition. Also, it discussed the findings of a "Cost-benefit analysis for the comprehensive use of smart metering systems".

System security working group

Renewables expansion and the growing volume of cross-border electricity flows in the European power grid pose new challenges for grid operators. In the foreseeable future, during some hours wind-powered and photovoltaic installations could in combination, for example, deliver more electricity than needed in Germany. This could be the case with high solar radiation and strong winds in tandem with low power demand at a weekend, for example. Weather-dependent volumes of electricity are not fully predictable. Some are also produced in small, decentral generators, so that local power grids must absorb large volumes of electricity and possibly also transmit them to other regions. Fluctuating electricity volumes from neighbouring EU countries will also have an increasing effect on German power grids.

The task and aim of the system security working group is to identify or where necessary devise measures to guarantee the secure operation of power grids for the future as well. So as to detect possible systemic risks early on and draft proposals on how to deal with these, its discussion topics include the following:

  • Maintaining systemic balance during strong winds and off-peak periods
  • Impacts of greater transmission distances and volumes on grid stability
  • Securing system services with a high renewables ratio
  • Improved and short-term information flows between transmission and distribution system operators on fluctuating infeed from renewable energies, power station availability and demand
  • Developing strategies for upgrading decentral power stations on the medium and low voltage grid to maintain system security in response to overfrequency and underfrequency