ALEGrO on the final straight

17.09.2020

Lichtenbusch near the westernmost German city of Aachen is located directly on the border between Germany and Belgium and is divided into a Belgian and a German part. Right here, on 16 September 2020, the final joint of the “Aachen Liège Electricity Grid Overlay” (ALEGrO) was installed by TSCNET shareholder Amprion, one of the four German transmission system operators (TSOs), and its Belgian partner TSO Elia. Over a distance of 90 kilometres, the DC interconnector with a transmission capacity of 1,000MW connects the Oberzier substation in the German Rhineland region with the Elia substation in Lixhe in the Walloon province of Liège. ALEGrO is the first direct link between the Belgian and German electricity grids and was realised over its entire length by means of underground cables.

The European Project of Common Interest (PCI) provides much needed grid capacity for cross-border electricity flows, while strengthening security of supply in the German region of Aachen-Cologne and the Belgian province of Liège. The cable laying work for ALEGrO started in October 2018 and after twenty months of construction, the civil engineering work was concluded in June 2020. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, ALEGrO is thus on schedule and nearing completion. The binational power bridge will go into technical operation in October 2020 and will be available to the European electricity market from mid-November. The technical integration of the DC cable into the three-phase grid is a step by step process. The same applies to the parallel market integration. Here, day-ahead capacities are offered first followed by intraday capacities. The allocation of long-term capacities will start in early 2021.

Amprion and Elia installed the final link of the ALEGrO interconnector, which will go into technical operation soon (picture of the project managers Ingo Sander, Amprion, and Dirk Wellens, Elia: Amprion)

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Foundation stone laid for ULTRANET substation

17.09.2020

On the site of the former Philippsburg nuclear power plant, which was shut down completely on 31 December 2019, a new DC substation for the German supra-regional “power highway” ULTRANET is being constructed. The Philippsburg substation in the German state of Baden-Württemberg represents the southern end point of ULTRANET, where the high-voltage direct current (HVDC) line will be connected to the regional 380kV AC grid. The new substation is thus to become one of the most important energy hubs in Germany’s future energy landscape. It is being built on behalf of TSCNET shareholder TransnetBW, the transmission system operator (TSO) from Baden-Württemberg. In its entirety, ULTRANET is a joint project of TransnetBW and further German TSCNET shareholder Amprion. It will transmit wind energy generated in the northwest of Germany to the industrially highly developed southwest. On the other hand, the Philippsburg substation will enable the conversion of AC to DC, e.g. to transport excess photovoltaic electricity from the south to the north.

In March 2020, the construction of the ULTRANET substation was approved by the competent authority and in May, the demolition of the two cooling towers of the former power plant created the necessary construction space of around 100,000m². Now, the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone took place in Phillipsburg in the presence of high-ranking representatives from politics, business, and society – and in strict compliance with the Corona regulations. Dr. Werner Götz, Chairman of the TransnetBW Executive Board, commented: “It was nevertheless very important to us not to let this important day pass without expressing our thanks to politicians, partners, and the project team.”

Andreas Feicht, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, recognised the progress of the European Project of Common Interest (PCI): “The converter in Philippsburg illustrates that the grid expansion is progressing in large steps.” Franz Untersteller, Minister of the Environment, Climate Protection, and the Energy Sector of Baden-Württemberg, emphasised the specific nature of the location and its symbolic value: “There are few places where the energy transition can be visualised in such a condensed form as here in Philippsburg. After the two cooling towers were detonated in May of this year, the old world made way for the new.”

TransnetBW has celebrated the laying of the foundation stone for the ULTRANET substation in Philippsburg (picture: TransnetBW)

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“Renewables need grid expansion”

28.08.2020

To reflect on the experiences from the corona pandemic and to present resulting conclusions for the Austrian (and European) energy future, the Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG held a press conference entitled “Electricity grids at the limit” (“Stromnetze am Limit”). Gerhard Christiner and Thomas Karall, CTO and CFO of APG respectively, are convinced that the future of secure electricity supply is being decided now. At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a significant drop in electricity consumption combined with a high level of renewable generation. This could actually be an ideal development for the energy industry, if it was not for the lack of efficient electricity grids.

Due to the inadequate infrastructure, the TSCNET shareholder was only able to cope with the situation by taking numerous emergency measures, on which Gerhard Christiner comments: “We have a massive problem. We are currently stabilising the electricity system by starting up gas-fired plants in Austria. This is as if we had a modern electric vehicle and had to install a petrol engine to help us driving. This is not only grotesque – it is also expensive. The ‘fuel bill’ already now amounts to around €100m this year. These are the costs we have incurred this year for starting and running the gas plants.” Christiner’s conclusion is therefore: “Without grid extension, renewable energy is pure lip service.”

APG calls for grid expansion to make the renewables and the energy transition a success (picture of Gerhard Christiner on the left and Thomas Karall: APG)

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TenneT to invest up to €5bn p.a. for the energy transition

31.07.2020

The Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT has just published its first-half 2020 report. Needless to say, the second quarter of 2020 was characterised by the corona pandemic and the extensive measures taken to ensure a safe and healthy working environment, but despite this, the TSO has made significant progress in developing the transmission grid onshore and offshore and in integrating growing amounts of renewable electricity. At the same time, TenneT has maintained a high level of supply security of 99.99% for 42m end consumers in Germany and the Netherlands.

As Europe’s first cross-border TSO, TenneT promotes the European market integration. The TSCNET shareholder increasingly benefits from its binational integrated approach to grid planning, management, and operation. Manon van Beek, TenneT’s CEO, comments: “Sharing best practices and lessons learned between our German and Dutch operations is paying off more and more in terms of an integrated approach to offshore and onshore grid expansion, better grid utilisation due to European innovations and cross-border energy system planning.”

TenneT currently operates 14 offshore grid connections, twelve in the German and two in the Dutch North Sea. The twelfth offshore grid connection in Germany, BorWin 3, was handed over to TenneT in the first half of 2020. In Dutch waters, the Borssele Alpha grid connection recently transmitted offshore wind power for the first time and the Borssele Beta grid connection has now been commissioned well ahead of schedule. While in the offshore sector experience from the German market is used for the Dutch, the situation is the other way round when it comes to underground cabling. Here, expertise from the Dutch Randstadt project is applied for the DC connections SuedLink and SuedOstLink. These two largest projects of TenneT, which are being entirely installed underground, will be essential for the transmission of wind energy from northern to southern Germany.

Such efforts require huge investments – facilitated by solid financial results: The underlying operating result (EBIT) increased to €414m in the first half of 2020. During the same period, investments in the German and Dutch high and extra-high voltage grids also increased by approximately 30% compared to the first half of 2019, but will do so much more in the future. TenneT expects a further rise in the annual investment volume to €4 to 5bn in the next years. Otto Jager, CFO of TenneT, explains: “We are going to connect growing amounts of renewable electricity to the grid while facilitating the development of a borderless European electricity market. In light of future equity funding needs, the ongoing talks with the German government about a possible equity participation, next to the Dutch State, are welcomed by TenneT.”

TenneT presents Half-year Report 2020 (picture: TenneT)

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Borssele Beta is ready for the grid

31.07.2020

Borssele Beta is the second high-voltage grid connection for offshore wind farms in Dutch territorial waters of the Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT. Like Borssele Alpha, the first Dutch offshore connection, it transmits green electricity generated in the Borssele wind farm area ashore, in this case from the Borssele III, IV and V wind farms. The operators of these three farms can hook up their wind turbines to the high-voltage grid one month earlier than scheduled, as TenneT has just received the “Grid Readiness” certification from the internationally accredited registrar and classification society DNV GL. This means that Borssele Beta fully complies with the criteria of the “Ontwikkelkader windenergie op zee”, the Offshore Wind Energy Development Framework of the Dutch Government.

The Borssele III, IV and V wind farms will have a total capacity of 700MW. The electricity generated here is collected by the offshore transformer platform, which converts the voltage from 66kV to 220kV for transmission via submarine cables to the onshore substation in Borssele. For feeding into the high-voltage grid, the voltage is then converted to 380kV. Marco Kuijpers, Director Offshore Projects at TenneT, comments on the rapid realisation: “We are proud of the fact that the second part of the Borssele high voltage connection is already complete and was realised within budget. Despite all the Covid-19 challenges, we were successful in continuing with the works; a huge achievement from all the contract parties involved.”

By the end of 2023, TenneT will have installed 3.5GW of offshore grid connections in the Netherlands, of which the first 1.4GW have already been achieved with Borssele Alpha and Beta. The next projects are Hollandse Kust (zuid) Alpha and Beta, followed by Hollandse Kust (noord). For these wind farms, TenneT will deploy five identical 700MW transformer platforms and identical 220kV cable connections. This standardisation allows TenneT to realise these projects faster, more efficiently, and more economically. The governmental Dutch follow-up roadmap for offshore development provides for an additional 6.1GW of offshore wind farms from 2024 to the end of 2030, located in the wind energy areas Hollandse Kust (west), Ten Noorden van de Waddeneilanden and IJmuiden Ver. Only for the first two, TenneT will again use standardised 700MW platforms. The efficient connection of IJmuiden Ver, located further out in the North Sea, partly requires other technologies based on DC instead of AC. IJmuiden Ver will have two offshore transformer platforms with a capacity of 2GW each, which is unique in the offshore wind industry.

The Borssele Beta offshore grid connection of TenneT is ready for transmission (picture: TenneT)

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Renewables surpass fossil fuels

27.07.2020

Analysts from the London-based think-tank Ember have for some time now been preparing annual reports on the European energy sector by collecting grid data from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E). The mid-year analysis for 2019 has identified a positive trend for achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the European Commission’s Green Deal, which, however, also poses considerable challenges for European transmission system operators (TSOs): For the first time ever, electricity generation from renewable sources has exceeded that from fossil fuels. In the first half of 2020, wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy generated 40% of the electricity in the EU Member States, while fossil fuels accounted for 34%.

Europe’s power industry faced a dramatic first half of the year and it should not go unmentioned that the substantial decline in electricity demand across the continent because of the COVID 19 pandemic also has an impact on the development in 2020. Nevertheless, this is a symbolic moment for the transition of the European power landscape. Renewable energy generation increased by 11% in the first half of 2020, mainly because more wind and solar facilities have been installed. In addition, conditions were also quite favourable with a sunny second quarter and a very windy February. In contrast, fossil generation fell by 18% over the same period, forced by falling demand and the growth in renewable energy.

With their committed responses to increasingly decentralised and volatile generation – such as grid extension and modernisation, technological compensation for the loss of reactive power, smart grid control, or cross-border cooperation – European TSOs are supporting this development sustainably.

In the first half of 2020, European electricity generation from renewable sources has exceeded fossil generation

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RSC Conference 2020: A focus on digital cooperation

15.07.2020

The vital function of the European Regional Security Coordinators (RSCs) has been and continues to be maintained despite the Corona pandemic. Regardless of the crisis, it is of great importance to exchange innovative concepts, significant insights, and daily practice in securing the European electricity system. For this reason, the annual RSC Conference will also take place in 2020, this time organised by the Baltic RSC and, as always, in cooperation with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E). However, the pandemic certainly influences the organisation of the event, so that this year’s conference, the fourth in total, will be accessible as a podcast as well as live digital streaming from the Tallinn Creative Hub in the Estonian capital on 24 November 2020. Speakers and participants have the possibility to participate either remotely or physically.

The RSC Conference 2020 is entitled “Securing future power systems with digital cooperation” and thus will focus on the digital aspects of TSO regional coordination. A further emphasis will be given to the challenges of implementing the EU Green Deal, the large-scale integration of renewable energy sources, offshore deployment, and the implementation of the EU Clean Energy Package. A foresighted review of the COVID-9 pandemic and its impact on regional risk preparedness scenarios is also intended.

Baltic RSC and ENTSO-E have confirmed the keynote speech of the conference given by Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy in the von der Leyen Commission, and the participation of Taavi Veskimägi, CEO of the Estonian TSO Elering. Updates on other participants and further information will be made available regularly on the RSC Conference 2020 website, where you can register for the conference already now – for virtual or in person participation.

The RSC 2020 Conference on digital cooperation in electricity security coordination takes place on 24 November 2020 in Tallinn and is hosted by Baltic RSC (picture of Tallinn by Külli Kittus, Unsplash)

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APG: Resilient and good for economy

10.07.2020

At a press conference, Gerhard Christiner and Thomas Karall – CTO and CFO of the Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG, respectively – together with Anna Kleissner, member of the board of the Vienna-based Economica Institute of Economic Research, looked back on the last months of grid operation during the Corona period. COVID-19 confronted the TSCNET shareholder with a number of challenges, each of which had to be met in a short period of time: e.g. the decline in electricity consumption, historically low electricity prices, power plant capacities dropping out of the market, or changes in working methods at the TSO.

“This crisis has shown us that we as a system operator must always be prepared for the unforeseen. This includes supply shortages in cases where too little electricity is generated or the grid capacities are insufficient for electricity transmission,” comments Gerhard Christiner, who also assures: “After four months of the Corona pandemic in Austria, we can conclude that the electricity supply has passed this test and was secure at all times.”

However, for the two APG managing directors, the future is what matters most, and in this respect, the TSO’s investments play an important role for the national economy. The integration of renewable energy requires grid extension, and APG will invest €350m in the Austrian economy this year to increase grid capacities. This supports both, the energy transition and the Austrian economy. “With the decline in economic output at the beginning of the year, investments in the domestic economy are all the more valuable now because they represent a real ‘turbo boost’,” states Thomas Karall. This is supported by a recent independent study carried out by ECONOMICA, which indicates that the investments have a domestic value added of €205.7m. “With every euro generated in the construction industry, a further €2.4 in value added is created in the rest of the economy,” explains Anna Kleissner.

APG reflects on grid operation in pandemic times and announces investments of €350m for 2020 (picture of Gerhard Christiner, Thomas Karall, and Anna Kleissner: APG)

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ENTSO-E promotes green economic recovery

06.07.2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the European transmission system operators (TSOs) lived up to their responsibilities and focused their efforts on maintaining a secure and sufficient supply of electricity, whether for systemically critical facilities or private consumers. The task in the aftermath of this unprecedented crisis is now to ensure that, when Europe’s economy and society regains momentum after the SARS-CoV-2 downturn, it does so in a future-oriented and environmentally responsible manner. Against this background, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), on behalf of its member TSOs, welcomes the European Commission’s strategy to focus on achieving a climate-neutral, resilient, and innovative EU.

ENTSO-E is confident that European TSOs are ready and willing to contribute their expertise to the green recovery. The Corona crisis should not prevent European decision-makers from complying with the EU Green Deal, as ENTSO-E considers it to be central to Europe’s economic recovery. To succeed in the sustainable post-pandemic upturn and the Green Deal, ENTSO-E recommends four key actions to EU policy makers:

  • Recognising the key role of electricity TSOs in system integration – towards a “system of interconnected systems”. This includes multi-sectoral grid planning and forward-looking investments.
  • Putting electrification at the heart of the EU’s decarbonisation policy, as electricity is the dominant vector for clean energy and the electricity transmission grid is central to this.
  • Investing in low-carbon, purpose-built infrastructure and in a “cyber-physical” power supply system.
  • Ensuring a smooth recovery of the entire electricity value chain. This also involves strengthening Europe’s industrial and strategic autonomy.

ENTSO-E is committed to the success of the Green Deal and proposes action strategies to European policy makers (picture: Steffen Horstmann)

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Declaration: “TSOs ensure the lights are kept on”

23.04.2020

“We need to jointly ensure the stability of the electrical system, the service continuity and the operation of our network infrastructures, which represent the real backbone of the interconnected electricity system on a continental scale.” Thus, commences the common statement of the managing directors of numerous European transmission system operators (TSOs) from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland. And of course, top staff from TSCNET shareholders are also among the signatories of the declaration, namely Gerhard Christiner (CTO of APG), Klaus Kleinekorte (CTO of Amprion), Manon van Beek (CEO of TennetT), Yves Zumwald (CEO of Swissgrid), and Chris Peeters (CEO of the Elia Group and Chairman of the Board of Directors of 50Hertz).

The CEOs and CTOs emphasise that energy has always been an essential part of European cooperation. Even more so during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is having a huge impact on the lives of the citizens and the worldwide economy. More than ever, electricity remains crucial for daily life, health services and all systemically relevant and critical activities. The main concern of all European TSOs is, obviously, to ensure the general supply of electricity. “Therefore, our highest priority is to keep our staff healthy – especially those who are working in critical positions like the national control centres or indispensable staff for priority preventive maintenance works and urgent damage repairs on our grids.”

The individual TSOs regularly exchange information on their prevention plans and respective measures. These start with hygiene and health protection and end with the preparation of various case scenarios in which the electricity grids would have to be operated with reduced staff. Close cooperation is also established with the respective national authorities to ensure the safe operation of the electricity grids, functioning markets in times of declining electricity demand and, if necessary, priority maintenance work.

However, as responsible and sustainability-oriented companies, the TSOs are already looking ahead to the time after the pandemic and to the green energy landscape of the future. “Keeping the lights on physically is the first step. And with the Green New Deal in mind we are also already actively preparing how to best support the restart of an ever greener economy as soon as possible,” the managers assure. They are certain that the modernisation of electricity systems and the integration of renewable energy sources are an effective growth programme that will safeguard and create jobs: „Keeping the electricity system future proof, supporting the energy transition, the national plans and the European Green New Deal in line with the Paris Agreement is our joint mission and will be a stable growth motor in all our countries in the years to come.”

TSO managers express their commitment to maintaining supply security during the Covid-19 pandemic and their dedication to the green energy future

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