27 Feb 2015 | Kerstine Appunn

German grid agency stresses need for new power lines

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Amidst political tussle over new power lines crossing Germany from north to south, which many see as one of the next big steps in the country's energy transition, the grid agency in charge has called the power highways in question "economically essential".

Three new power transmission lines that will run from northern and eastern Germany to the south are urgently needed, Germany’s Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) concluded in a report on the grid expansion planned for the coming decade.  The report was released Friday as part of an ongoing process to establish and approve the plans.

“The fast expansion of the transmission grid is even more urgent in light of the quick development of renewable energies and the exit from nuclear power in the near future,” Jochen Homann, President of the BNetzA (Bundesnetzagentur) said.

Amid citizen protests against power lines slated for construction near their homes, the state governments of Bavaria and Hesse continue to campaign against the federal government’s grid expansion plans. Instead of using wind power from the North, Bavaria is considering building extra gas-fired power stations to compensate for power lacking once nuclear power stations in the south are shut down in 2022.

The federal government has been locking horns with the states over other parts of its priority list for the Energiewende: a disagreement over the funding of a tax break for building insulation has blocked part of a programme to boost energy efficiency.

Evaluating the latest suggestions for future grid development by 2024 compiled by Germany’s four transmission system operators (TSO), the BNetzA found that of the 92 (7300 km) grid expansion or enhancement measures proposed by the TSOs, 63 (5798 km) were in a position to be authorised while 29 (1502 km) were not.

Particularly three direct-current power lines (from Emden to Phillipsburg; from Wilster to Grafenrheinfeld and from Wolmirstedt to Grundremmingen), which will connect wind power strongholds in the north with industry in the south, have emerged as essential.

“This means that exactly the three lines that were challenged by Bavaria have been confirmed,” Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) told the Clean Energy Wire in a first assessment of the Bundesnetzagentur’s publication. “Our model simulations show however that not all lines might be necessary. It crucially depends on the share of coal in the power system in the future and how much capacity will replace nuclear”, she added, referring to recent DIW research.

Grid operators and Energy and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel have warned that Germany could be split into two price zones: one with cheap wind power in the north and one with more expensive electricity in the south. But according to a new study by the DIW (English version here), this is not the right reason to build new power lines. Completing the southwestern power line (Altenfeld-Redwitz) in the coming years will transport excess power from the eastern states to Bavaria, enough to limit price differences, the researchers write. “The reason for further grid expansion must be the large overcapacity of wind in the north and security of supply, and not the fear of two price zones,” Claudia Kemfert says.

The grid agency deemed only one of the north-south power highways suggested by the TSO’s “currently unnecessary” (Kreis Segeberg – Wendlingen). According to Kemfert, this is part of the normal grid planning process, in which changes to scenarios of future power sources and demand frequently cause the adaptation of grid requirements. “It’s a highly dynamic process, in which not only usage scenarios have to be taken into account but also environmental implications of grid construction and local citizens’ interests,” she said. Since the original planning proposals by the TSO’s can often be overestimated, Kemfert says it’s normal for the Bundesnetzagentur to cut back on these plans.

After a growing number of citizen initiatives have worried about the new direct-current lines running close to their homes, the Bundesnetzagentur has also published a 420-pages Environment Report, which for the first time assesses the effect of direct-current connections both as overland lines or buried cables for every grid project.

What follows now is a consultation process, allowing the public and administration to comment on the grid agency’s reports till 15 May 2015.

See a CLEW dossier “The energy transition and Germany’s power grid” here.

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