Energy transition ‘only possible with a European approach’, says German TSO – EURACTIV.com

The energy transition can only be implemented effectively if it is planned and carried out jointly at European level, according to the electricity grid operator of the German region of Baden-Württemberg.

TransnetBW, one of Germany’s four electricity transmission system operators, launched a new study on Monday 27 June which calls for greater EU involvement in energy planning to reduce the cost of the transition to a zero emission energy system.

As Russia’s war in Ukraine focuses EU attention on gas supply and energy security, the climate emergency ‘also calls for a radical transition’ to secure Europe’s energy independence , said Bodo Lehmann, head of the Baden-Württemberg representation in Brussels.

“While the future is uncertain, the growing impact of climate change and the need for a paradigm shift, I think, is undeniable,” said Werner Götz, CEO of TransnetBW, who spoke at the conference. an event in Brussels on 13 June to present the results of the study. results.

And the role of the EU in leading this transition “is of the utmost importance”, he insisted.

“Our conclusion is that the Energiewende is only possible with a European approach,” Götz said.

When TransnetBW launched the study two years ago, it initially focused exclusively on Germany. But the authors quickly understood that the European dimension was simply unavoidable and had to be taken into account.

“Now is the time to think more European,” said Götz. “There is not a single state, not a single company, not a single technology that can make this transition on its own. We need to work together, we need an integrated Europe, we need an integrated approach,” he said.

“And we have to start now.”

“Huge Challenge”

These conclusions are drawn from a study commissioned by TransnetBW, which predicts an increase in electricity demand by 2050, with peak load that will at least triple by the middle of the century, putting a strain on the network. electric.

Due to new demand from sectors such as heating, mobility and industry, electricity demand in the EU is expected to increase from 2,491 TWh in 2020 to 5,190 TWh or 5,833 TWh, depending on the scenarios.

“We can see that there is a massive increase” in demand for electricity by 2050, which leads to “a huge challenge for the future”, said Jonas Lotze, project manager for the study. at TransnetBW.

Germany’s power grid is in dire need of an upgrade to ensure a stable supply in a country that aims to generate 80% of its electricity from wind and intermittent solar power by 2030.

In April, the German government presented a comprehensive overhaul of the country’s power sector, including plans to complete 19 power grid expansion projects to support the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Two scenarios, with hydrogen in both

To achieve climate neutrality, the TransnetBW study examines two scenarios: one assuming hydrogen is freely traded on global markets, accounting for 60% of EU supply, and the other without any imports of hydrogen.

Both scenarios conclude that reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 is achievable and brings significant benefits in terms of climate protection and reduced dependence on imported oil and gas.

But the study also highlights major bottlenecks, such as the growing need for land to generate electricity from wind and solar power, which increases even more in the scenario where hydrogen is produced. in Europe, Lotze said.

According to the study, up to 32% of additional electricity demand will come from the production of synthetic gases such as hydrogen – the so-called power-to-X applications.

This extra demand is adding enormous pressure to the power system, with projections showing “massive overloading across Europe”, underscoring the need to further develop the power grid to avoid congestion and outages, Lotze said.

To cope with the additional load, “a massive expansion of 2.8 times the current power grid is needed,” the study says. This means that electricity interconnections between EU countries must increase from around 70 GW today to at least 200 GW in 2050, Lotze explained.

And gas infrastructure will also play a crucial role, with hydrogen pipelines forming the backbone of a grid-connected hydrogen network. “In both scenarios, you need a hydrogen grid,” Lotze said.

Catharina Sikow-Magny, director of the European Commission’s energy department, backed the study’s findings, saying the switch to renewables will lead to “a huge shift in the mix and location” of electricity generation. electricity – both centralized, with lots of offshore wind power in areas like the North Sea, and decentralized generation from small rooftop solar panels.

“And it has to be tied to where the consumers are,” she added.

“If we look at the map, nobody lives in the sea, people live in the center of Europe. So we need electricity there. And that obviously crosses borders – the borders of the TSOs and the borders of the Member States. And that, I think, is inevitable if we want to be economical,” Sikow-Magny said.

Of course, the transition can also be self-sustaining, with less cross-border energy trading, but that will come at a high cost, she said. “We’ve done studies on that, and the difference is huge.”

Towards a pan-European electricity grid?

Michael Bloss, a German Green MEP who took part in the same event in Brussels, said the time had come to open a debate on the need for a pan-European electricity grid.

“We need to have more responsibility at European level,” Bloss said. “If we want to opt for 100% renewable energies, we need such a network at European level,” he underlined. “Otherwise it won’t work or we will have over-planning” with unnecessary gas-fired power plants being built as backup.

The TransnetBW study supports this, saying that the energy transition “can only be implemented effectively if it is planned and carried out jointly at European level”.

But building a pan-European electricity grid will also require radical changes in the way electricity is traded. The EU electricity trading model is currently based on bidding zones, or geographical areas where wholesale electricity prices are uniform.

That’s why bidding areas also tend to correspond to national borders – they reflect network deployment decisions that were often made decades ago, when electricity was still happening. well within national borders.

The European Commission has attempted to divide national auction zones into smaller units to make them more efficient and to cross borders. But defining tender areas can be a highly political issue and most EU countries were not prepared to consider it.

Security of supply remains a competence of EU Member States, and national authorities or TSOs are ultimately responsible in the event of an outage.

“Of course, we need to have rules in place to determine who is responsible” to ensure network stability, Sikow-Magny said. Since electricity cannot be stored, grid operators need a system that can react to fluctuations in demand every 15 minutes, she noted.

“And where the market cannot provide solutions, the TSO should,” she said.

The TransnetBW study acknowledges this, saying that electricity supply and demand must be looked at in a radically different way, from a pan-European perspective.

In particular, “the concept of ‘demand determines production’ can no longer be applied to an energy system with variable renewable energies”, the study states.

A more efficient energy system also requires “a very high share of flexible demand” from energy technologies that do not depend on the immediate availability of generation capacity, Lotze said.

According to the study, 62% of this demand will have to come from flexible energy sources such as demand management, battery storage or hydrogen, which can convert excess wind and solar energy into gas.

“Today there is not much flexibility,” Lotze conceded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

James R. Rhodes