In the coming years, electricity consumption in Germany will increase significantly. Should we expect serious problems with the network due to the rapid growth in the number of consumers. Is it possible to disconnect consumers from electricity? How to protect local power grids against overloads when millions of electric vehicles are charging at the same time and electric heat pumps are running? But how is it supposed to work?
It is already clear that the rules, which will apply from January 2024, could have implications for millions of electricity consumers.
Expansion of networks is needed
In the coming years, electricity consumption in Germany will increase significantly. In the transportation sector, millions of electric cars are expected to help meet climate goals, and buildings are expected to have millions of heat pumps installed. However, such a rapid increase in the number of new consumers creates serious problems for the electricity grid, according to a statement from the German Energy Agency sent to the Federal Grid Agency. In particular, low-voltage networks are generally not designed for load peaks that can occur when new consumers consume electricity at the same time. The expansion of networks is necessary, but it takes a long time, costs a lot of money and requires a large number of skilled workers, which are currently in short supply.
The essence of the envisaged solution
According to the new edition of the Energy Industry Act, the Federal Grid Agency can issue national regulations for this purpose.
In November, the network agency presented the first key provisions. They specify that the distribution network operators should have the possibility of intervening on the network by way of surveillance, if necessary, in order to be able to maintain its operation in complete safety. However, they should exercise only the control absolutely necessary in order to limit the “comfort” of the consumer as little as possible. The idea is to temporarily reduce the amount of electricity drawn from the grid.
Benefit for consumers – a fixed discount on network charges. In general, controlled heat pumps, private charging stations and energy storage have to operate at a low electricity price due to the high share of renewable energy sources. Manageability should allow network operators to avoid bottlenecks and therefore local power outages.
What does this mean for consumers
According to the concept of the Federal Grid Agency, if there is a risk of shortage, it should be possible to reduce (throttle) the power to 3.7 kW. The German Automotive Industry Association (VDA) expects charging times for electric cars to triple and warns consumers of a “significant loss of comfort” and even usage restrictions. The German Heat Pump Association (Bundesverband Wärmepumpe) claims that there are already voluntary agreements to switch off heat pumps for up to two hours to compensate for peak loads – without loss of comfort for households. Moreover, according to the main provisions of the Federal Network Agency, this should become mandatory. However, the association criticizes the lack of detailed specifications. According to builders, many heat pumps in existing buildings are technically impossible to reduce to 3.7 kW. In this case, they will automatically turn off completely.
What does the automotive industry need?
The alliance of the Federal Association of New Energy Industries, the Federal Association of Heat Pumps, the VDA and the Federation of German Consumer Organizations fear significant restrictions for consumers. Upper limits for “emergency throttling” are needed, they say, along with additional measures to avoid network congestion. For example, time-varying electricity tariffs. “Consumers will benefit financially if they move the billing process to off-peak times with low network load,” a VDA spokesperson said. “The direct intervention of the power system manager in the management process should only be a last resort.”
Lion Hirt, energy expert at the Hertie School in Berlin, advises to increase the load when there is free space on the network. The prerequisite is that Germany finally makes decisive progress in the digitalization of the electricity supply system. “You need smart meters that can also transmit this information in real time. So far, in an international comparison, Germany has shown impressive performance in this area.
What opposes the energy industry?
The VDE Electrical, Electronic and Information Technology Association rejects criticism from the Union of Associations that network operators are allowed to limit devices “unilaterally and indefinitely” in the event of imminent network congestion. Customers will know from the outset that they may be harmed and will be financially compensated in the form of reduced network usage charges, whether or not they are actually affected by the checks. “Unlimited limitation” is not taken for granted. There are minimum limits that must not be violated and allow customers to continue working with ordinary electricity consumers. “With this, it is even possible to charge an electric car, but with reduced power and therefore increased charging time,” explains VDE.
The Association of German Energy and Water Companies also considers that the fear that consumers may be temporarily deprived of electricity is unfounded. According to CEO Kerstin Andreae, the planned regulation only affects households that have installed, for example, a heat pump. In this case, the household itself will not be affected by a possible short-term power outage. “The fridge, washing machine and internet will work as before.” The main condition remains the expansion of the network, she added. “The possibility of a short-term power outage is a last resort until the grid can adapt to the new demand.”
What will happen next
The Federal Network Agency will hold public hearings to discuss controversial issues again. In the second quarter, the agency wants to publish a specific draft resolution. Afterwards, all interested persons will be able to express their comments. In the fall, the agency will present the final version of the regulation, which will be applied from January 2024.
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