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The new generation landscape with electricity from growing proportions of renewable energies creates new challenges for the grid: some electricity has to travel long distances from the electricity producers to the consumers.

For example, renewable electricity from wind energy is primarily generated in the north and east as well as at sea, where the wind is particularly strong. The largest electricity consumers - especially large industrial companies - are, however, in the south and west of Germany. The “wind power” generated in the north must therefore be transported there.

Making grids fit for the energy transition

German nuclear power plants will be phased out of operation by 2022 - and other conventional power plants will also be decommissioned. The power grid is also tracing this change: over the next few years, over 7,500 kilometers in the transmission grid will have to be optimized, reinforced or newly built. The high-voltage direct current transmission lines (HVDC lines), the so-called electricity highways, such as SuedLink or SuedOstLink, play a special role here. The expansion of the connections to our European neighbors is also becoming more and more important, because the energy transition is increasingly embedded in Europe. For example, we can combine hydropower in Scandinavia and the Alpine countries with wind power and photovoltaics in Germany. We are thus reducing the costs of the energy transition.

Whereas in the past electricity flowed in a one-way street from the power plant via the transmission networks and distribution networks to the consumer, today the networks have to cope with the transport of electricity with two-way traffic: the electricity not only flows from "top to bottom" but also from "bottom to top". In order to coordinate generation and consumption based on demand and consumption, the power grid must therefore become “more intelligent” or “smarter”.

Framework conditions for the power grid of the future

The entire power grid with its various levels must be fit for the energy transition. In order to speed up the expansion at the transmission and distribution network level, to make it citizen-friendly and to make the power grids fit for the new tasks, the law amending the provisions of the law on power line construction, the law on the digitization of the energy transition and the amendment to the Incentive Regulation Ordinance were introduced important decisions were made. You can find more about the framework conditions for network expansion here.

Electricity grid action plan

In order to actively accelerate the stagnant network expansion, the Federal Ministry of Economics presented the "Electricity Network Action Plan" (PDF, 92 KB) in August 2018. This pursues a double strategy: on the one hand, existing networks are to be optimized with new technologies and operating concepts. On the other hand, the network expansion is to be accelerated with simplified planning procedures and forward-looking controlling (PDF, 130 KB). The key elements of controlling are the schedules for every network expansion project. Every project is discussed at regular meetings between the Federal Ministry of Economics, the Federal Network Agency, the federal states and network operators. In this way, those involved can identify specific obstacles and risks for the schedules at an early stage and take countermeasures. You can find more information on controlling here (PDF, 130 KB).

Discussion process "Electricity 2030"

Germany has set itself ambitious goals: to increase investments in efficiency technologies and largely avoid greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The time until 2030 is decisive here. With “Electricity 2030”, the BMWi is therefore looking ahead: In the energy transition platforms electricity market and energy networks, twelve long-term trends for the electricity sector were discussed on the basis of current studies. The trends describe how wind and solar power are increasingly shaping the energy system, gradually becoming important energy sources and how the power supply remains safe and inexpensive. You can read the results of the discussion process in this results paper.

Network development plan 2019-2030

The network development plan 2019-2030 was confirmed by the Federal Network Agency in December 2019. The plan shows the need for network expansion and optimization by 2030 in order to achieve the climate goals in Germany. It does not describe any concrete routes, but only the transmission requirements between certain network connection points. It takes into account the phase-out of coal in accordance with the results of the “Growth, Structural Change and Employment” commission and, for the first time, the planning of the connection systems for offshore wind power. Previously, the drafts of the transmission system operators were publicly consulted and examined by the Federal Network Agency. More information is available here.

The network expansion is progressing

In order for the power supply to remain secure and affordable, several thousand kilometers of power lines have to be converted and expanded in Germany. A mammoth task that made significant progress in 2019 thanks to improved cooperation between all those involved and less bureaucracy.

At the end of 2019, around half of all projects under the Energy Line Expansion Act were in operation, and another third is under construction. According to the agreed schedules (PDF, 130 KB), around 90 percent of these projects should be under construction or already in operation by the end of 2020. For the SuedOstLink, the first of the large north-south electricity highways, the entire underground cable route corridor has now been determined. It is the first high-voltage direct current transmission line. By the end of the year, almost 90 percent of the projects according to the current federal requirement plan law should be in the planning approval phase or further. This means that the network expansion has come a long way in 2019.

Much has also happened with regard to the individual approval years: of the expansion projects approved in 2009, 767 kilometers (46 percent) are already in operation, and a further 471 kilometers (28 percent) are currently being built. 1,579 kilometers (63 percent) of the projects approved in 2013 were in the planning approval process or more advanced at the end of 2019. In 2018 it was 49 percent. The reduction in bureaucracy due to the revision of the law to accelerate network expansion (NABEG 2.0) also played a major role in the growth of 14 percent. It has made many network expansion processes leaner, especially when it comes to optimizing or strengthening existing lines. The law has helped directly with several network expansion projects and shortened the administrative procedures by several years. Even with the most recent projects from 2015, 949 kilometers (27 percent) are already in the planning approval process or are further advanced. In 2018 it was 821 kilometers.

The progress made in expanding the network is summarized in a flyer (PDF, 825 KB). Further information on the current status of all network expansion projects can be found on the Federal Network Agency's website www.netzausbau.de.