The transmission system operators – responsible for safe, future-proof power grids
The four transmission system operators (TSOs) fulfil a social mandate in Germany to “operate and maintain a stable, reliable and efficient power supply grid in an unbiased manner, optimizing, enhancing and expanding this in line with demand” insofar as this is economically viable (Section 11, German Energy Management Act).
This legislation places responsibility for the safety, stability and modernisation of the German ultra-high voltage system in the hands of the transmission system operators. The TSOs – that is, 50Hertz, Amprion, TenneT and TransnetBW – have built and continuously developed the electricity infrastructure in Germany. Accordingly, the TSOs have acquired a unique set of expertise in this field, covering technology, planning and operation.
TSOs: service providers with clear responsibilities
With this in mind and within the framework of the currently applicable laws, the TSOs consider themselves to be suppliers of a service that is integral to our society. Their tasks are regulated by federal laws – in addition to the German Energy Management Act (Energiewirtschaftsgesetz or EnWG), this also includes the German Renewable Energy Act (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz or EEG) and the German Energy Line Extension Act (Energieleitungsausbaugesetz or EnLAG).
The role of the transmission system operators in ensuring the safety and stability of the German ultra-high voltage network is just as clearly defined as the limits of their activities; the TSOs are responsible for operating and optimising the ultra-high voltage grid. They must make sure that the energy infrastructure in Germany is fit for the future and equipped with up to date, efficient and environmentally friendly technology. However, the TSOs do not determine specific locations for energy production nor do they design a market for the future. They do not provide any recommendations or optimisation proposals for any of the measures mentioned. Furthermore, the TSOs do not have any influence over the type, scope and site of energy production or consumption.
However, as energy infrastructure experts with many years of experience, the four TSOs are responsible for drawing up the Grid Development Plans for both the onshore and offshore energy networks. In their role as specialists for ultra-high voltage networks, they identify and describe the measures necessary for achieving their prescribed targets in detail. Precisely which measures will need to be implemented in the ultra-high voltage grid over the next few years in order to ensure that we will continue to be able to transport the growing proportion of energy from renewable sources in a safe and stable network? This is the key question that is at the core of developing the Grid Development Plans.
Turnaround in German energy policy requires new dimensions in grid development
Actually, planning an energy grid based on future demands is not a completely now assignment to TSOs. From their very inception, the transmission system operators have implemented demand-actuated network planning and used expansion measures to adapt the electricity grid to fit changing conditions.
However, the German energy transition’s (Energiewende) focus on expanding renewable sources of energy presents a whole new set of demands on the capabilities of the energy transmission grid and thus also on grid development. This is now a much more complex process. New sources of energy must be synchronised with the expansion of the energy grids. This includes rooftop solar panels, biogas plants on agricultural land and wind farms both on- and offshore. Formerly, local power stations supplied the surrounding area with most of their electricity. However these days, for example, electricity from wind power is increasingly being generated in the north and east of the country, where ideal conditions prevail, whilst Germany’s strongest energy consumers – notably major industrial companies – are located in the southern and western regions of the country. Electricity needs to be transported over great distances to reach its point of use as efficiently as possible, that is, without energy losses and taking economic and environmental criteria into account.
This means that, over the next few years, a total of more than 7,500 kilometres of the transmission grid will have to be optimised, developed or newly constructed. This is the prerequisite for creating a future-proof, sustainable energy networks that is flexible and faster than today’s grid.
New electricity infrastructure – heterogeneous criteria and requirements
There are numerous technical, economic, environmental and social factors and requirements that need to be taken into account when designing the new electricity infrastructure. The transmission system operators (TSOs) have the experience and the expertise to fulfil these demands. Their tasks include the flexible management of network capacity as well as intelligent networking and maintaining a balance between energy generation, storage and consumption. New technologies for storing electricity also need to be incorporated. Last but not least, the exchange of energy with our European neighbours also needs to be ensured. Obviously, optimising the expansion of the grid is a complex process in which a vast range of criteria and requirements all play a role. As a result of the Grid Development Plans, the four TSOs highlight the level of demand identified allowing for all these critical factors. These plans document all the necessary expansion, restructuring and modernisation measures.
Planning demand for expansion and restructuring – numerous influencing factors at home and abroad
In determining the level of demand for grid development, the multi-layered structures of the fast-growing German electricity grid need to be taken into account. Not only the transmission grid needs to be expaned. Considering the changing consumption and generation situations; the downstream power supply systems for low and medium voltage transmission also need to be adapted and expanded to meet these new demands. This process takes place by means of ongoing coordination between the transmission system operators and the distribution network operators.
Particularly due to its geography, Germany plays a key role as a transit country for large volumes of current flow. German grid development planning thus also has to take the existing energy infrastructure and network planning of our European neighbours into consideration. Situated as it is between the Western and Eastern European energy markets, it is likely that Germany will have to handle considerably more cross-border electricity trade than other countries in the future.
The German Grid Development Plan Electricity is therefore closely related to two European instruments.
The Ten Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP) produced by the European transmission system operators (ENTSO-E) follows a very similar methodology to the German Grid Development Plans. German legislature demands that the German Grid Development Plan and the Offshore Grid Development Plan make allowance for the European TYNDP. However, this reference is not one-directional, instead, a reciprocal effect can be observed between both plans. The current TYNDP thus shows consideration of the current Grid Development Plans. This correlation once again highlights the importance of Germany for the future of Europe’s energy infrastructure. Furthermore, the provisions of the European Commission’s third European energy infrastructure package also need to be implemented. This concerns the separation of grid operation from supply and generation – as has already been carried out in Germany – as well as, for instance, supplying at least 80% of all consumers with intelligent electricity meters by 2020.
The Ten Year Network Development Plan is drawn up by the association of European transmission system operators (ENTSO-E); the German TSOs are therefore heavily involved in this process. The TYNDP is published and presented for public consultation every two years, most recently in 2018.
It applies throughout the European Community, is non-binding and is intended to ensure greater transparency surrounding the necessary expansion of the overall transmission grid.
Learn more about the TYNDP here: