Final court confirmation for Salzburg Line

21.10.2020

From the first submission of the project to the Salzburg state government in September 2012 until the approval of the construction of the second section of the Salzburg Line (“Salzburgleitung”) by the court of last instance, the beautiful Austrian state of Salzburg has certainly seen many sunsets. The Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG is now all the more content with the definite legal groundwork for Austria’s most important infrastructure project. Although the legally valid building permit for the Salzburg Line had already been granted by the Austrian Federal Administrative Court in March 2019, there were still final legal details in connection with the project, which the Supreme Administrative Court has now clarified on 20 October 2020, thus confirming the permit.

The new 380kV overhead line will replace the old 220kV line from the 1960s and will be capable of transporting seven times more electricity than the current line. To improve supply security in the city of Salzburg, the first 46-kilometre section of the Salzburg Line from the St. Peter grid node near the German border to the newly constructed Salzburg substation near Elixhausen was already commissioned in January 2011. The second section of the Salzburg Line, from Elixhausen to the Tauern grid node near Kaprun, will now close the western gap in the Austrian “380kV Ring”. This ring-shaped extra-high voltage grid is the backbone of the national electricity supply and crucial for the integration and transmission of renewable energies.

The total length of the new line, which has 449 pylons, is 128 kilometres. However, as old lines will be dismantled when the Salzburg Line is completed and some of them will run jointly on the new line, there will be 229 fewer masts in Salzburg than before. Commissioning of the Salzburg Line is planned for the year 2025, dismantling will be completed by 2026. “With €890m to be invested, the Salzburg Line is by far the most important investment project in the Austrian electricity infrastructure. Of the approx. €350m that APG is investing in the expansion of the electricity grids this year, the Salzburg Line alone has a share of €125m for the domestic economy,” comments Gerhard Christiner, CTO of the Austrian TSCNET shareholder, who also praised the day of the court ruling as a “good day for the energy transition and for the secure supply of electricity in Salzburg and Austria”.

The Austrian Supreme Administrative Court has definitively confirmed the construction permit for the 380kV Salzburg Line of APG (picture: Martin Lugger / APG)

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Construction start of Slovenian-Hungarian interconnector

16.10.2020

A glance at the guest list of the official ceremony for the start of construction of the Cirkovce-Pince overhead line reveals that a major project has been launched here. The Slovenian transmission system operator (TSO) ELES had the honour to welcome both the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban to the opening event for the new construction. And indeed, the project is of historic proportions, as the 400kV AC line, a good 80 kilometres long, will be the first interconnector between the Slovenian and Hungarian transmission systems.

The double circuit line with 264 pylons will increase the operational reliability of the Slovenian transmission system and import transmission capacity, facilitate access to energy sources from the North and East, and allow for the integration of larger amounts of renewable energy from the whole region into the grid. The line runs from the Cirkovce substation in the northeastern Slovenian region of Lower Styria to the border settlement of Pince, which is not only on the Hungarian border, but also in the triangle of Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary. Therefore, in addition to the substation of the Hungarian TSO MAVIR in Hévíz in Zala County, the substation of the Croatian TSO HOPS in Žerjavinec near Zagreb can also be connected to the new line, truly a European Project of Common Interest (PCI). The power line will thus even interconnect three countries. The presence of Gordan Grlić-Radman, Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, confirmed the trinational dimension of the Cirkovce-Pince line.

At the ceremony with symbolic unveiling of the construction panel, Aleksander Mervar, CEO of ELES, illustrated the supraregional significance of the power line: “This project is of great importance not only for Slovenia but also for the wider region and Europe. That is why this project was included on the list of Projects of Common Interests in 2015, while in 2019 we managed to acquire €50m funds.” Mr Mervar also explained that the project, which includes major upgrades of switchgears in Cirkovce, is the largest investment in transmission infrastructure in the history of ELES, totalling some €150m. Finally, he emphasised the good cooperation of the three TSCNET shareholders ELES, HOPS, and MAVIR: “Without this cooperation, this project would surely not be happening today.”

ELES has started construction of the Cirkovce-Pince 400kV line, which will connect the transmission grids of Slovenia, Hungary, and Croatia (picture: ELES; from right to left: Gordan Grlić-Radman, Viktor Orban, Janez Janša; second from left: Aleksander Mervar)

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Aviation history for grid maintenance

09.10.2020

The Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG, the Austrian IT company SmartDigital, and Austro Control, the Austrian air traffic control authority, jointly carried out the first civilian test flight in which an unmanned drone completed a long-range flight of over 100 kilometres. The maiden flight indicates in which areas of the economy drones can be usefully employed.

However, the TSCNET shareholder did not only carry out the flight to explore the technical possibilities of drone flight, but rather to demonstrate potential applications for monitoring the electricity infrastructure. After all, secure power supply is one of the most important foundations of contemporary society, making it so important that the hardware and software of this infrastructure is fully efficient and intact. To ensure this, it must be regularly monitored. In future, overhead line inspection flights could be performed by unmanned drones, especially in weather conditions where conventional helicopter flights are not possible, e.g. at night or in fog.

After an intensive preparation phase and a comprehensive risk assessment, Austro Control granted permission for this first civilian long-range drone flight without visual contact. The drone surveyed the 380kV line leading from the South-East substation in Vienna to Burgenland, more precisely the section from Vienna to Rotenturm an der Pinka. Gerhard Christiner, CTO of APG, comments: “This pilot project shows how we will be able to inspect lines even better in future, for example in the event of disruptions. This will allow us to find and eliminate malfunctions more quickly. This is an important contribution to security of supply and saves costs.”

Thomas Karall, CFO of APG, adds: “On high and extra-high voltage lines, failures, which we cannot clearly assign, occur time and again. A short-term inspection by means of drone flight would be of great help to us here, because it is often only a matter of verifying whether everything works properly after a short power interruption of a line has occurred.” However, many test flights and legal regulations are still needed before this vision can become reality. In the near future, APG intends to further develop its know-how and use the latest technical possibilities for inspections.

APG has successfully completed the first unmanned drone flight over a 100-kilometre power line (picture: Carolina Burger / APG)

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ČEPS half-year report: progress despite pandemic

06.10.2020

The development of European electricity infrastructure cannot be delayed, even in the event of a pandemic. The Czech transmission system operator (TSO) ČEPS has therefore continued in the first half of 2020 – and thus in times of Covid-19 – to comprehensively expand the national transmission system to meet new customer requirements as well as demands arising from international cooperation in the electricity market and to keep pace with the changes in the energy landscape. Notwithstanding the increased challenges, the Czech transmission system was as reliable and efficient as usual during the unforeseen circumstances of the six months and the TSCNET shareholder transmitted 32,000GWh of power.

In the reporting period, the income of ČEPS increased, but also the expenses due to the corona pandemic. This was mainly caused by the need to purchase power balancing services to cope with the decline in electricity consumption during the tense economic situation. Nevertheless, with total revenues increasing in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period of the previous year by nearly CZK 1.1bn to CZK 13,002.5m (about €479,243m), the TSO managed to make a respectable profit of CZK 1.8bn (about €66,344m). “In a year-on-year comparison, total sales from sold licensed services grew the most. After disregarding MC shipping, they accounted for 98% of our total revenues,” explains Martin Durčák, Chairman of the Board of Directors of ČEPS.

ČEPS reports positive figures despite the Covid-19 pandemic for the first half of 2020 (picture: ČEPS)

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Wilhelmshaven-Conneforde line put in operation

05.10.2020

With the Wilhelmshaven-Conneforde line, the Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO) TenneT has commissioned an important grid expansion project for the German and European energy transition. The 380kV line from the new substation Fedderwarden near Wilhelmshaven on the German North Sea coast to the Conneforde substation in Ammerland, both in the federal state of Lower Saxony, is not only crucial for the transmission of mainly wind power and electricity from regional generators, but also for strengthening security of supply in northern Lower Saxony. Furthermore, it represents a novelty for the TSCNET shareholder in terms of technical implementation: “With this new line, we have put into operation the first pilot project with two underground cable sections in three-phase technology and connected it to the meshed power grid in Germany,” explained Tim Meyerjürgens, COO of TenneT.

The commissioning ceremony on 2 October 2020 in Fedderwarden was attended by representatives from politics, including Andreas Feicht, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs, and Energy and Olaf Lies, Minister for the Environment, Energy, Construction, and Climate Protection of Lower Saxony. The new line is only about 30 kilometres long, but – together with the new construction of the Fedderwarden substation – “of great importance for the entire European electricity trade”, commented Olaf Lies. The Minister was impressed by TenneT’s latest milestone in the energy transition. State Secretary Feicht referred to the newly gained potential for integrating large amounts of wind power into the German electricity market and the technical relevance of the pilot project: “Knowledge obtained in such pilot projects about the construction and operation of the technology will be of great benefit for further power grid expansion in the future.”

The line project was successfully completed after less than two years of construction. Almost 5 kilometres of the line were implemented as underground cables. However, even if TenneT can be satisfied with what has been accomplished so far and is strongly committed to expanding the transmission of green electricity throughout its entire grid area, Meyerjürgens sees a need for further action, especially in view of the increasing offshore wind volumes: “Still, we already see today a further demand for expansion in the Wilhelmshaven and Friesland region.”

TenneT commissioned the new Wilhelmshaven-Conneforde line (picture: TenneT)

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Substantial EU funding for Harmony Link

02.10.2020

The Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) is an important financial instrument of the EU to support targeted infrastructure investments at European level. On 1 October 2020, the coordination committee of the CEF decided to allocate €719.7m for investment in electricity transmission infrastructure in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The granting follows an application for funding submitted at the end of May this year by the national transmission system operators (TSOs) of the three Baltic States and by PSE, the Polish TSCNET shareholder.

Harmony Link, which is to be the second interconnector between Poland and Lithuania, particularly benefits: €493m will be directly allocated to the project. Further funding is intended for the upgrading of infrastructure required for the integration of Harmony Link and for the installation of synchronous compensators in the Baltic States.

The first Polish-Lithuanian interconnector is LitPol link, an overhead line connecting the PSE substation in Elk and the Lithuanian Alytus substation, which has been in operation since 2016. Harmony Link is implemented in a different technical way, as a high voltage direct current (HVDC) submarine cable bypassing the Curonian Lagoon and the Gdańsk Bay. The new Polish-Lithuanian interconnector is crucial to enable the synchronisation of the Baltic electricity area with the Continental European (CE) area – an important objective in the framework of the European Energy Union to create a common European electricity market. It will also support regional and supra-regional supply security.

The EU is funding the Polish and Baltic electricity infrastructure with €719.7m through the CEF Energy programme (picture of Gdańsk Bay seen from Gdynia: NAC on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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€30m for secure electricity supply in East Tyrol

28.09.2020

Since autumn 2016, the Austrian transmission system operator (TSO) APG has been gradually renewing the 220kV switchgear at the Lienz substation in the eastern part of the Austrian state of Tyrol. The substation in Nußdorf-Debant near the medieval town of Lienz is of particular importance for the region’s electricity supply, as it is the only feed-in point from APG’s 380/220kV high-voltage grid for the whole of East Tyrol. For this reason, the TSCNET shareholder is pursuing an extensive investment programme of €30m for the substation to improve the electricity supply in East Tyrol and to enhance the integration of green electricity into the Austrian transmission grid.

The upgrade project also includes a new 380/220kV transformer. Due to its dimensions, it was transported by rail in three individual parts of 167 tonnes each from the Styrian Siemens plant in Weiz via an individual siding directly to the substation. Now the last part has arrived in Lienz and has been placed on its foundation. The total weight of the finished system is 816 tonnes. The state-of-the-art device will be operational from June 2021 and APG expects the upgrade of the entire substation to be completed in autumn 2022.

The Lienz transformer is of supra-regional relevance as it increases system security in all of Austria and also facilitates the country-wide use of climate-friendly wind energy. This is because the transformer strengthens the connection between the pumped storage power plants in the west of the country and the wind turbines in the east. With its investments, APG thus supports the national goal of covering 100% of the electricity consumption in Austria with green electricity by 2030. Company spokesperson Christoph Schuh comments: “All APG grid expansion, modernisation and maintenance projects are crucial for reaching Austria’s climate targets and indispensable cornerstones for guaranteeing the republic’s security of supply.”

APG is investing €30m in the upgrade of the Lienz substation in East Tyrol (picture: Michael Stabentheiner / APG)

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Network Agency decides on southern routing of SuedLink

25.09.2020

700 kilometres of underground cable to be laid and an investment volume of around €10bn – this makes the 525kV line SuedLink the largest and probably most important individual project of the energy transition in Germany. The exclusive use of underground cables in the project is politically specified to increase the acceptance of the project by the population: For only if one succeeds in effectively connecting the windy regions of northern Germany with the centres of consumption in the industrially highly developed south and west via such “electricity highways” as SuedLink, the German – and European – climate targets can be achieved.

SuedLink is jointly implemented by the two TSCNET shareholders TenneT, the Dutch-German transmission system operator (TSO), and TransnetBW, the TSO from southwest Germany. The project is making step-by-step progress in the regulatory, planning, and implementation areas. This year, for example, regional planning offices have already been set up and the contracts for the cables awarded. Now the competent government authority, the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), has decided on the southern section between the Lower Franconian Arnstein near Schweinfurt and the Großgartach substation in the Stuttgart Metropolitan Region (SuedLink section E). This 137 kilometre long section runs through the control areas of both TSOs involved.

The Bundesnetzagentur’s decision largely follows the proposal by TenneT and TransnetBW, according to which the Würzburg metropolitan area is largely bypassed in the west. The proposal of the two TSOs had already incorporated the results of the application conferences and requirements of the Bundesnetzagentur. The last 16 kilometres to the Großgartach substation are a special construction feature. Here an existing salt mine is to be used for an underground course of the cable project. This increases construction costs, but these are outweighed by other benefits, in particular the reduced impact on the environment and residential areas. After the completion of the federal sectoral planning for the SuedLink section E, planning approval procedures are to follow which will determine the exact route of the line within the corridor and the technical implementation.

The German Federal Network Agency has decided on the southern section of the SuedLink power line, a joint project of TenneT and TransnetBW (picture: TenneT)

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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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New power line for west-central Switzerland

17.09.2020

Switzerland’s national sustainable energy strategy and the resulting growth in hydroelectricity generation in the cantons of Berne, Valais, and Ticino require a significant increase in electricity transmission capacities, particularly to transport green energy to the Swiss Central Plateau and to ensure long-term security of supply throughout the country. This requires the upgrade of existing lines to 380kV and the construction of new high-capacity lines. One example of this is the 220kV line from Innertkirchen in the district of Interlaken-Oberhasli (canton of Bern) to Ulrichen/Obergoms in the district of Goms (canton of Valais), most parts of which are over 60 years old.

To maintain a secure connection between Haslital and Obergoms in the future, the Swiss transmission system operator (TSO) Swissgrid has developed various planning corridors for the construction of a new extra-high voltage line and submitted them to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (FOE). The TSCNET shareholder has defined three main corridors, some of which include sub-corridors: The first option is a pure overhead line, which crosses high alpine terrain in parts. The second is partial cabling. Here, the middle section is implemented as underground cables, mainly in existing tunnels up to Obergoms. The third variant provides for underground cabling almost exclusively. Either in a new, yet to be built tunnel and then, as in the second alternative, in largely existing tunnels – or in the proposed multifunctional Grimsel Tunnel (envisaged for rail transport and power transmission). If the tunnel is used, the corridor variants for the last section to Ulrichen are possible as overhead line or underground cable        .

Each of the submitted options has specific advantages and disadvantages in terms of spatial planning, environment, technology, and economic efficiency. What they all have in common is the relief of settlements in the affected area, where overhead lines currently run partly through villages. The FOE is now discussing and evaluating the planning corridors. Its recommendation will then be submitted to public consultation, and the Swiss Federal Council is expected to determine the planning corridor and transmission technology between Innertkirchen and Ulrichen at the end of 2022.

Swissgrid has designed and submitted corridor variants for the new Innertkirchen-Ulrichen 380kV line (picture of the existing line: Swissgrid)

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