Sustainability Report 2017

Berlin on the way to a climate-neutral city

Interview with Boris Schucht and Thomas Schäfer

The city of Berlin has set itself the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Thomas Schäfer, Chief Executive Officer of Stromnetz Berlin, and Boris Schucht, Chief Executive Officer of 50Hertz, are committed to this goal. For both, it is clear that, in order to achieve this, Stromnetz Berlin and 50Hertz will have to redefine their roles, redesign processes and coordinate with each other. And both admit that on the way to a successful energy transition, they will be working even more closely together than ever before and in partnership with each other in the future.

Berlin has set its climate target high. How can we achieve this goal and what challenges are we going to face?

— Thomas Schäfer: Climate-neutral city 2050, that still sounds far away. But it is a topic that we are already addressing today. It is doable. For Berlin as a metropolis, this means an energy transition of up 20 percent for electricity and 80 percent for heating. The challenge will be to integrate renewable energies in the city.

— Boris Schucht: Climate change is, of course, not a question that a city like Berlin can solve alone. It is a global challenge to which every nation, every region and every city has to contribute. Thomas Schäfer is absolutely right. A very important aspect in order to successfully combat climate change is the integration of renewable energies into the entire power system. To do so, we have to create a different infrastructure to the one we have today. One that can transport electricity from the renewable energy regions to the consumer centres. But we also realise that we can achieve the climate targets relatively well in the energy sector. In other sectors, such as mobility and heat for example, this is much more difficult. Big cities are facing immense challenges related to the following question: What contributions can be achieved in these two sectors in big cities? Specifically: How much CO2 savings can be realised on the mobility side and how can we bring renewable energies into the heat supply? All this is happening under the keyword “sector coupling”.

When sector coupling is spoken of, Power-to-X is always mentioned. Are there opportunities for these technologies in Berlin?

— Boris Schucht: In the next few years, we will already have more days and hours in the north of Germany during which more renewable energies than we can use or transport will be available to us. In the meantime, we follow the principle of “utilise instead of switching off”. For example, this means that we can also produce heat from this renewable power. Berlin, with its large heat market, is a very interesting place for driving the development of power-to-heat solutions. We believe that this will be one of the most important instruments in the future for integrating more renewable energies into the district heating network and thus the urban centres.

Boris Schucht
Chief Executive Officer 50Hertz

Sector coupling also plays a major role in electric mobility. Is our power grid built for 100-percent electric mobility at all?

— Thomas Schäfer: The power supply seen in absolute terms is not currently suitable for switching personal transport over to 100 percent electric mobility. This is precisely the challenge of the future: Developing our entire power grid and private transport so that this integration succeeds. What we already know is that, in Berlin, we are ready to add the first 250,000 electric vehicles to our distribution grid without having to significantly change anything about the structure. So we are ready for electric mobility. However, the extent to which we can achieve 100 percent electrification of transport will initially need to develop socially. This is what is so exciting about this turnaround situation. It is not just a parameter that will change but rather the whole world. And we have to be prepared for this.

— Boris Schucht: It is clear that in a battery-based world of electric mobility, it is necessary to ensure that, in addition to planned grid expansion, no unnecessary expansion takes place and that we make optimum use of the existing infrastructures. In the transmission grids, there is no restriction to electric mobility, and we can envisage a high proportion with ease.

What does this mean for the electricity grids of the future?

— Boris Schucht: The energy transition means an upheaval in the energy system. In the past, a few hundred power plants in the vicinity of the consumption centres were connected to the high voltage level in Germany. Today, we have over 1.7 million distributed installations – and this number will increase. A much higher proportion of the system control will have to be performed in a decentralised manner at the medium and low-voltage grid level. On the other hand, there is the higher-level transport and coordination requirement at the European level.

Thomas Schäfer
Chief Executive Officer Stromnetz Berlin

What challenges do you see in the decentralisation of power generation?

— Thomas Schäfer: We are already seeing the challenges today in Berlin’s distribution grid. We have more than 1,500 Co-heating power units or micro power plants and around 6,000 photovoltaic systems in our grid. We can see that the Berlin customers are very open to new things – for example, we are mapping more than 270 tenant electricity projects on the basis of the Tenant Electricity Act. To date, this is unique in Germany. We are continuously learning about the impact this change is having on the quality of supply in the low-voltage grid. That is why we have begun to visualise the low-voltage grid in our central grid management. This is an epochal change. We have to develop technology and processes in order to develop new low-voltage grid management. Not only is grid management in focus; we will also need to develop a new form of communication with our customers. This is exactly the way to achieve the energy transition.

— Boris Schucht: We can see the effect of more and more households having a photovoltaic system on the roof and a battery in the basement. In doing so, they are no longer following a statistical model as to how an end user should behave. This raises several questions: For the distribution system operators, it is important to see what is actually happening right now and how the distribution grid is loaded in this second. Is the customer currently charging or discharging his battery? Perhaps he is also charging an electric vehicle at the same time? These are questions we will have to address together in the future. We have to handle the amount of possible data that we will receive from the transmission and distribution grids in a way that makes sense in the future. This will require significantly more intelligent grids, in terms of both the transmission grids and the distribution grids.

What role will grid operators play in the future?

— Thomas Schäfer: The lower the voltage level, future grids will be more interesting and also intelligent. This is a completely new trend. The energy transition is happening in cities and in the medium and low-voltage grid areas. But it will only work if we have strong high and extra high voltage grids. However, visualising the change, controlling it and intervening intelligently, interaction between the customers connected to the grid, and the electrical system all take place in the medium and low-voltage grids. Therefore, in the future, the role of the transmission system operators in system management and the distribution system operators in grid management will change dramatically.

What will this cooperation look like in the future?

— Thomas Schäfer: Traditionally, we work precisely at the interface between the transmission and distribution grids. Our colleagues have being doing it this way for the last 40 years. We are now considering what challenges we will have to face at the level of the distribution grids and what that means for cooperation with the transmission grids. This is uncharted territory. Stromnetz Berlin is responsible for controlling the distribution grid and sees the control and adaptation requirements in the Berlin medium and low-voltage grid as being in indirect interaction with the customers. We are still at the beginning of the road and have to find out what this actually means. And we have to find out together with 50Hertz how these processes can be designed in the future.

— Boris Schucht: I can only agree with this. The distribution system operators will be given new tasks and cooperation will become more complex. This will only succeed if both sides work very closely together. I would like to mention a pioneering project for the energy sector, which we are driving together: In our SINTEG* project, WindNODE, we are developing solutions for the energy sector of the future together. In the interplay between what are now more than 70 project partners, including a wide range of distribution system operators as well as equipment manufacturers and customers, we are testing different scenarios. How do we deal with local congestions and how can we overcome them? Which options to control the system are available and how do we organise such control in detail? The goal is to use an intelligent control system to prevent power outages and also to avoid unnecessary grid expansion. We realise that we are dependent on each other in these areas. Even if interests sometimes differ as to who plays what role where, in the end, we are all bound by the same objective of finding the best and most cost-effective solutions for society in order to be able to provide a cheap and reliable power supply for grid customers.

You can also read about WindNODE in our section „Cooperations and Networks“.