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Germany: Fight Against Blackouts As Expensive As Never Before

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The expansion of electricity networks lags behind the boom in renewable energy. Last year, German network operators had to interfere as never before to keep the lights. The consumers have to pay the price.

As a result of the Energiewende, measures to prevent blackouts last year reached a record cost of about one billion euros. The expense has to be covered by the consumers via rising network charges, which are part of electricity bills. “The stress in the grid is rising – and faster than expected,” said Tennet CEO Urban Keussen. “The cost for actions that stabilise the power grid has cracked the billion euro mark in 2015.”

The total cost for network operator Tennet in 2015 comes to 700 million euros – including 225 million euros (2014: 74 million) for the startup and shutdown of power plants, 152 million euros (2014: 92 million) for the retrieval of network reserve and 329 million ( 2014: 128 million) for the emergency shutdown of wind turbines. The second major network operators 50 Hertz, which has to transport a lot of wind power in northern and eastern Germany, recently announced spending on grid stability of 300 million euros.

Network charges account for about one-fifth the price of electricity 

German customers will feel these developments this year since network charges account for about one-fifth of the electricity price. According to estimates by the Federal Network Agency they will rise be around six percent in 2016 for a typical household, but regional they may rise even more.

The expenditure for grid stability rose significantly not least because 2015 was a rather windy year. Since the existing networks are not sufficient for the green energy boom, it often comes to transport bottlenecks. In order to prevent the power grid from breaking down in extreme situations (“blackouts”), transmission system operator like Tennet have to switch off as power plants for a certain periods.

This problem is likely to remain for the foreseeable future because the planned large power lines “Suedlink” and “Südost” from the north to the south of Germany will not be ready for years. “I’m assuming that the number of these power stabilising interventions and therefore the costs will continue to rise quickly,” said Keussen. There’s no alternative to network expansion. “However, for this to happen we need the support of federal and state governments for urgently needed grid expansion projects.”

Of the 1876 kilometers of new network lines planned six years ago just 558 kilometers were completed by the end of 2015, according to the Bundesnetzagentur . Germany’s parliament (Bundestag and Bundesrat) have now decided to build the new large electricity highways as underground cables. As a result, Bavaria’s Prime Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) has given up his opposition to supposed “monster autobahns of pylons.”

The Government assumes that the partial underground cabling (up to 80 percent) of the two lines “Suedlink” and “Südost” that will bring wind and solar power from the coasts to the industrial centers in the south, will inflate the cost by three to eight billion euros. In addition, more time will be lost because “Suedlink” – the 800-kilometer-long “main artery of the energy revolution” – needs to be redesigned. Politicians, however, believe that this will be cheaper in the end than protracted litigation with residents and citizens’ initiatives.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17 January 2016