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A smart grid

Modern and efficient infrastructure is needed to transform Germany’s energy system. Thismeans that new electricity and gas power lines must be installed, while the system as a whole needs to become more flexible. When Germany’s nuclear power plants are shut down, renewable energy plants in northern and eastern Germany in particular will meet the shortfall. This energy is needed in southern Germany. Most of the country’s nuclear power plants are located in the south, which is also home to a large population and major industrial firms. New electricity highways with particularly efficient technology will transport the electricity generated by wind farms in northern and eastern Germany directly to the south.

The German power grid is 1.8 million kilometres long

times the circumference of the earth at the equator.

Where is the power grid being expanded?

Planned new power lines in Germany’s maximum-voltage grid

The European internal energy market is the second driving force behind grid expansion in Germany. Better infrastructure is needed in the member states and across borders so that electricity can flow freely all over Europe and becomes cheaper for consumers. European transmission grid operators present a joint grid development plan every two years. All German projects are included in this plan.

The Energiewende is the German equivalent of the project to get the first man on the moon.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, 2015

Grid operators in Germany conduct their own assessments, looking 10 to 20 years ahead to calculate what power lines the country will need. Their proposals are examined by a state authority, the Federal Network Agency. The public is highly involved in this process. The organisation uses a dialogue-based approach to weigh up what solution best meets the needs of people, the environment and the economy.

How a smart grid works

Simplified diagram of actors, infrastructure and channels of communication

The distribution grid also has to be upgraded for the shift to green energy. Originally designed only to transmit electricity to consumers, it functions like a one-way street. However, almost all solar plants and many wind turbines now feed electricity into the distribution grid. What is not needed locally flows in the opposite direction. Furthermore, the electricity generated by renewable energies fluctuates depending on the weather. Solar plants are very productive when the sun is shining, but their output drops rapidly when skies are overcast. Distribution grids must be upgraded. They need to become smart grids so that they remain stable even when electricity generation fluctuates. In a smart grid, there is communication between all those involved, that is, the people and firms that generate, transport, store, distribute or consume electricity. Generation and consumption can thus be coordinated more efficiently and adjusted at short notice.