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UPDATE: German Energy Agency estimates cost of grid expansion

Up to now, the focus of grid expansion in Germany has mainly been on high-voltage lines to connect wind power in the north and solar power in the South. Yesterday, German Energy Agency Dena produced the first estimate of how much is needed down to the distribution level – where most customers are connected.

UPDATE: Oliver Krischer, energy spokesperson for the Green Party, writes on his website that the 1.5 to 2.3 billion euros that Dena estimates will be necessary for the Energiewende are actually in line with what has been spent annually on grid maintenance and expansion up to now. In other words, there is no extra cost of expanding the grid for the energy transition.

Just two weeks after Germany's Network Agency drastically reduced its forecast for the extent to which the German transit grid will need to be expanded over the next decade, Germany's Energy Agency (Dena) has published its estimate of what will be needed down to the distribution level – the low-voltage grid to which individual homes and small businesses are connected – over the next 18 years.

Dena estimates that as much as 42.5 billion euros will need to be invested to make the distribution grid ready for the fast growth of renewable power by 2030 – nearly 2.4 billion euros per year. In comparison, the estimates for expansion of the transit grid have fallen from around 2 billion euros per year down to below than 800 million euros annually – roughly a third of what is now forecast for all grid levels.

 - Is Germany expanding its grid more for offshore wind or for coal power? Experts disagree.
Is Germany expanding its grid more for offshore wind or for coal power? Experts disagree.

Industry representatives are pleased about the announcement, such as Germany's BDEW, which says that grid expansion has finally been made a priority. But not everyone is convinced. Last night, German investigative news TV show frontal21 aired a clip showing that coal plants will largely benefit from the grid expansion plans currently being sold as a part of the Energiewende (start at minute -11:00 of this video if you understand German). The report concludes that Germany is planning to become a major power exporter, increasing the volume of its annual power exports fivefold.

A particular line will connect RWE's coal plants in the Ruhr Area with southern Germany, and only later would the lines be connected further north, where Germany has most of its wind power. The issue is especially suspicious because Stefan Kohler, head of Dena, is known to be closely associated with RWE (he recently considered accepting a position at the firm), and in a recent interview with Germany's Photon Magazine he displayed a near complete ignorance of aspects of grid integration for photovoltaics.

Proponents of renewables and the Energiewende are therefore skeptical of the findings. Green Politician Oliver Krischer commented on Dena's new findings by charging that the Agency is overstating its case, and he points out that German grid operators have neglected the grid over the past decade, so some expansion is needed to make up for lost ground.

But Dena itself also tries to put its findings into context. For instance, the Agency assumes that all of the lines will be buried, an option that is more expensive but also meets with less public resistance than overhead lines – and is less vulnerable to power outages during extreme weather events. (Craig Morris)

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1 Comment on "UPDATE: German Energy Agency estimates cost of grid expansion "

  1. Photomofo - 12.12.2012, 16:38 Uhr (Report comment)

    "Underground cables are more expensive than overhead lines (on the order of 10 times at 230 kV to over 20 times at 500 kV), more difficult to maintain and more complicated to operate."
    "The cost to build underground distribution lines is typically four to six times the cost of underground distribution lines."

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