Photo: imago images / CHROMORANGE
10.01.2020 | 4 minutes

Stromnetz Berlin: “No Need to Worry About Blackouts”


Stromnetz Berlin is the operator of the distribution network for electricity in the German capital of Berlin. Jens Oberländer, Head of the Coordination Office for Electromobility at Stromnetz Berlin, explains in an interview how the grid operator deals with the growth of electromobility.

By 2030, the German government wants to see ten million electric vehicles on German roads, with one million charging stations. We currently have 220,000 electric cars and 21,100 charging stations in Germany. Is the Berlin power grid ready to handle this increase?

 

We obviously did not wait for the government to present a master plan. If you calculate the proportion of the ten million electric cars for just Berlin, you get around 216,000. We already analyzed three years ago what it would mean if 20 percent of the cars in Berlin were electric. That corresponds to more than 200,000 vehicles. So it means our calculation was alright. The result: In principle, it does not pose a problem for the power grid, so no one needs to worry about blackouts.

How does this translate to the required grid connections for the charging stations?

 

We cooperated with the Technical University of Berlin, among others, to investigate two representative subnetworks following the above-mentioned potential analysis. So what we did was we simulated the ramp-up of electromobility with the additional load. It also became apparent in the process that the grid would have to be adapted from time to time if it is to accommodate more electric vehicles.

How does this adaptation work?

 

In addition to the theoretical considerations, we set up a test center. There, we are testing new technologies like the phase selector we developed ourselves to control unevenly distributed grid usage or dynamic load management, which enables electricity consumers to achieve the best possible utilization of their grid connection and make optimum use of the available capacity. After the tests, we want to quickly transfer these innovations to the grid.

Jens Oberländer, Head of the Coordination Office for Electric Mobility at Stromnetz Berlin. Photo: Private

As a grid operator, you also want to control utilization of the power grid. How can we imagine load management on the scale of an entire city?

 

We are able to optimize grid utilization for the entire city using grid load management, that is, the distribution of the available electricity in a sensible manner. If, for example, electricity usage increases sharply at 5 p.m. across the city because people are getting off work and charging their cars, we must of course ensure that everyone still has power. We try to create incentives to distribute how people use electricity more evenly. That’s why we, as a grid operator, offer special low grid rates that electricity suppliers can pass on to their customers if they do not charge at 5 p.m. These are all aspects of load management to enable optimal utilization of the power grid.

Can you plan for these special situations each time?

 

Generally, yes. We have many years of expertise as a grid operator. Likewise, there are certain patterns. However, there are discrepancies between a forecast and what actually happens sometimes, albeit in the non-critical area. This will improve even more as big data is used more, more modern measurement technology becomes available, and in the future even with artificial intelligence.

What happens when the opposite is true? When more electricity is available in the grid than is needed?

 

Nothing is lost. There are reliable forecasts for these situations, too. Generally, gas and coal-burning power plants will need to adjust the energy they generate. This is because power from renewable energies has priority according to the law.

Priority for green electricity and the “electric car offensive” – initially that sounds like a very environmentally friendly future. But will it be enough for the turn in mobility?

 

In my view, these are all first steps in the right direction. However, in the medium term, it is certainly not enough to just switch to electric cars. We need a comprehensive concept for the transformation in mobility – one that also includes public transit, the entire infrastructure, and, of course, cycling. That is what is lacking so far.

We have to keep in mind that there is still very little demand for electromobility from customers, although there are subsidies and incentives for it. The task now is to convince people of the advantages of electromobility. Many potential customers only see the higher price at the moment. However, politics and the economy must also make clear the advantages for the environment and the increase in quality of life, for example.

 


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