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Energy for 500 million people

The European Commission wants Europe to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Europe’s transmission system operators want to help implement what’s ­being called Europe’s “Green Deal”, says Joachim Vanzetta, System Operation and Control Manager at Amprion and Chair of the Board of the industry association ENTSO-E.

Carbon-neutral by 2050 – Europe has set itself a mighty ambitious goal. Mr Vanzetta, what do Europe’s TSOs have to say about this?

They support the project – and look forward to the opportunity to use their expertise to shape the future energy world in Europe. ENTSO-E is an affiliation of 42 transmission system operators from 35 countries. Together, we bear the responsibility for a secure and dependable power grid that supplies more than 500 million people.

To what extent does the EU Commission’s Green Deal impact transmission system operators?

The Green Deal will accelerate the transformation of the European energy system, which will have a direct impact on the continent’s electricity grids. On the one hand, the policy of decarbonisation will see progress, i.e. the phasing-out of fossil fuels such as lignite and hard coal. Renewable energy sources will increasingly take their place. Unfortunately, this also means that the system will be losing generating capacity that is available on a secure basis – and is being replaced by capacity that fluctuates greatly depending on the weather. As generation and consumption in the transmission system must always be in equilibrium in order to keep the network stable, the task of ensuring this is the case will become much more demanding for the transmission system operators. Nevertheless, all major industrial nations in Europe will be following this path, but most of them will not be renouncing nuclear power as a dependable energy source.

You are alluding to Germany, which will be phasing out both nuclear power and coalfired power generation.

With what it calls its “dual phase-out”, Germany has taken on a special position within Europe. As a result, the challenges faced with respect to Germany’s energy system will be none the smaller. We must prepare ourselves for this and develop solutions that combine climate protection and system reliability.

“The Green Deal will accelerate the transformation of Europe’s energy system.”

We were talking about the Green Deal and its consequences for the energy system. What developments will it accelerate besides decarbonisation?

The Green Deal will also lead to increased elec­trification of the economy and society. For ex­am­ple, we will be consuming more electricity in sectors such as mobility and heat, because we can generate it in a carbon-neutral way. To achieve this, we need to expand the power grids, develop new storage technologies and expedite digitalisation in the sectors. But electrification has its limits. We will be able to cover only part of the total energy requirements across Europe with electricity.

Why isn’t even more electrification possible?

Many energy-­intensive pro­­cesses simply do not function with electricity – take shipping or industry, for example. Moreover, it’s virtually impossible to store electricity in the volumes required. This, however, would be absolutely essential as renewables do not generate electricity on demand, but only when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. For this reason, we in Europe will additionally start to convert green electricity into hydrogen. And we’ll be doing so whenever this green electricity is available in abundance thanks to favourable weather conditions. Hydrogen can also be used to generate heat and steam for use in industrial processes, for example. Experts refer to this as “sector coupling”, because the electricity and heat sectors are connected in this way. Without sector coupling on a large scale, the Green Deal will not succeed. However, these power-­to-X technologies still have to pass through a number of development stages before we can deploy them on an industrial scale. The sooner we begin with these developments, the sooner technical solutions will be available.