24 Apr 2024, 12:05
Benjamin Wehrmann

Faulty planning by German utility to connect new power customers highlights grid expansion challenges

Clean Energy Wire / Handelsblatt

Difficulties with connecting new customers to the grid in the eastern German town of Oranienburg near Berlin have highlighted the challenges associated with the required expansion of the country’s power grid. In early April, the local utility of the town in the state of Brandenburg with nearly 50,000 inhabitants informed the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) that an expected capacity bottleneck at a transformer station in the coming winter impedes the processing of new grid connection requests, the agency said. The BNetzA called the situation “unacceptable” and promised to work towards a quick resolution of the issue. According to Oranienburg’s utility, the bottleneck is the result of increased demand from industry, businesses and new residential areas built in the region. “The expansion or connection of heat pumps and wall boxes [for charging electric vehicles] only play a minor role,” the BNetzA said.

The national grid regulator said that the local utility conceded it had failed to adequately estimate the increased demand and to take steps to accommodate the local grid to higher volumes of electricity. “The halt to new connections is due to the much welcomed strong growth of the city of Oranienburg in combination with planning by the utility that was delayed for several years. The problem is thus due to the individual situation on site,” the agency said, adding that it illustrates the importance of foresighted grid planning. Building a new transformer station will remedy the situation in the long run, the BNetzA said. However, in order to quickly provide relief, upgraded battery storage capacity, more power generation installations and individual solutions with large power customers could provide solutions, it added.

While the freeze on new connections in Oranienburg is an extreme example for failed grid expansion planning, a survey conducted by newspaper Handelsblatt among local utilities found that many others registered a surge in connection requests and now warn against high costs and long waiting times for new customers. “Waiting times of six months up to several years are common for larger requests,” the newspaper said. The BNetzA estimates that necessary grid investments in line with the ongoing transformation of the country’s power system, with more decentralised power generation by renewables and higher demand due to electricity-based devices such as heat pumps, could reach 150 billion euros by 2045, said Handelsblatt. However, most utilities said they can manage the surge and do not see any risk of having to block requests for new connections, the newspaper added.

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