The new generation situation with growing shares of electricity from renewable sources is creating fresh challenges for the grid: In some cases, electricity needs to travel long distances from the generators to the consumers.
For example, electricity from wind energy is mostly generated in the north and the east of Germany, as well as at sea; this is where the wind is particularly strong. But the main electricity consumers – particularly large industrial operations – are to be found in the south and west of the country. So the wind power generated in the north needs to get to the south.
Making the grids fit for the energy transition
By the end of 2022, Germany’s nuclear power plants will have been gradually decommissioned, and other conventional power stations will also have closed down. These changes are affecting the grid: in total, more than 7,500 kilometres of transmission grid will need to be upgraded or newly constructed in the next few years. A major role here is played by the ultra-high-voltage direct-current transmission lines, the “electricity highways” like SuedLink and SuedOstLink. The upgrading of the interconnectors to our European neighbours is also becoming more and more important, because the task of realising the energy transition is increasingly being approached from a pan-European level. This allows us, for example, to combine hydroelectric power from Scandinavia and the Alpine countries with wind power and photovoltaics from Germany. And this cuts the costs of the energy transition.
It used to be the case that electricity travelled in one direction, from the power station via the transmission and distribution grids to the consumer, but today’s grids have to cope with “oncoming traffic”: electricity travels not only from the “top-down”, but also from the “bottom-up”. In order to coordinate generation and consumption in a demand-based and consumption-based manner, the electricity grid needs to become smarter.
Rules for the electricity grid of the future
The entire electricity grid, including all its various voltage levels, must be made fit for the energy transition. The Act to Change Provisions of Law on Energy Cable Construction, the Act on the Digitisation of the Energy Transition, and the revision of the Incentive Regulation Ordinance have put important policies in place to drive the expansion at transmission and distribution grid level, to make it citizen-friendly, and to make the grids fit to cope with their new tasks. You can find out more about the rules governing the grid expansion here (in German).
Electricity Grid Action Plan
In order to take action to speed up grid expansion, which had been slowing, in August 2018, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy presented the "Electricity Grid Action Plan" (in German) (PDF, 92 KB). This Plan follows a two-pronged approach: to optimise existing grids using new technologies and operating strategies, and to speed up grid expansion by simplifying planning procedures and utilising forward-looking controlling (in German) (PDF, 64 KB). The declared political goal of the Federation and the Länder is to approve construction projects for at least 4,000 kilometres of grid by the year 2021. To make sure this goal is met, an exact timetable is developed for each project. Representatives from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, the Bundesnetzagentur, and the Länder meet with grid operations on a regular basis to discuss each project. This enables every party involved to identify potential obstacles and risks early on and to take measures to counter these. Timetables, project milestones and progress are published and reported at www.netzausbau.de.
‘Electricity 2030’ discussion process
Germany has set itself ambitious targets: it wants to increase investments in efficiency technologies and to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible by 2050. The time up to 2030 is crucial. The Federal Economic Affairs Ministry is therefore looking towards the future of ‘Electricity 2030’. Basing their work on recent studies, the energy transition platforms “Electricity Market” and “Energy Grids” discussed twelve long-term trends in the electricity sector. The trends show that wind and solar energy are having an increasing impact on the energy system, gradually becoming important energy sources while remaining secure and affordable. The outcome of the discussion process can be found in this paper.
First draft of the Network Development Plan 2019-2030
On 4 February 2019, the four German transmission system operators published a first draft of their 2030 Network Development Plan. The Plan sets out grid expansion needs over the next few years. It does not describe specific powerline routes, but defines the transmission lines that are to be built and makes recommendations for expanding Germany’s transmission grid as well as for constructing brand new sections. For more information, please click here.