However, what we don’t expect is to have to balance that expectation with the needs of the planet – that’s someone else’s job. That someone else, in the North-Eastern part of Germany, is 50Hertz Transmission, formerly known as Vattenfall Europe Transmission, the operator of the “power highways”. If that highway broke down, your lights, heating, cash registers and machinery may not go. When that power transmission system is working perfectly, it is easy to forget about it and then become concerned that massive power structures could be endangering nesting daw, kestrel, and hobby falcon and/or osprey. 50Hertz has to delicately balance both concerns.
Change of name and upgrading transparency and non-discrimination
As a very public signal to all concerned, Vattenfall Europe Transmission and its subsidiary Vattenfall Europe Baltic Offshore Grid, which is in charge of the connection of offshore wind farms to the mainland grid, have undergone a name change – to 50Hertz Transmission and 50Hertz Offshore, respectively. This name change as of January 2010 makes a public statement that the transmission system operator is run in a completely independent and non-discriminatory way and is taking the EU’s Third Energy Package extremely seriously.
The new name “50Hertz” stands for a stable frequency as the basis for a reliable, high quality power supply service for our society.
Mr Gert Schwarzbach, Managing Director of 50Hertz Offshore, explained that until 2008 some of the functions of these two (above) companies were performed by services from different divisions of the energy utility Vattenfall. In 2008 a “carve out” process was started to ensure all functions were performed independently from the rest of the Vattenfall Group. This ensured that the two companies could stand on their own.
This process also led to the renaming of the two companies. In parallel to this restructuring, the sale of the two companies from the Vattenfall Group has been launched and is anticipated to be completed by 2010.
Transparency and non-discrimination
Transparency relates to the fact that the ownership, management and information of the business must be entirely apparent at all times.
Non-discrimination means that outside suppliers must have the same market-relevant information as suppliers within the Group. This is overseen by the Equal Treatment Expert within the Group. Additionally this is overseen by the German regulatory authority the so-called “Bundesnetzagentur”.
Scope of the companies
Currently, 50Hertz ensures a safe and secure electricity supply for more than 18 million people and employs over 600 employees. Its structures link Denmark, Poland, and the Czech Republic with Germany. 50Hertz Transmission is responsible for the operation, maintenance, planning, and expansion of the 380/220 kilovolt transmission grid throughout the German Federal States of Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Hamburg. This transmission grid covers an area larger than 109,000 km² and runs a length of approx. 9,700 km.
50Hertz is a real facilitator of the development of electricity from renewable sources. Renewable energy has priority on the 50Hertz grid. In the supply area of 50Hertz are connected:
• 10,300 MW of power from wind farms,
• 500 MW of power from solar energy sources,
• 1,000 MW of power from biomass sources,
All continue to develop with high growth rates.
This year the first offshore wind farm in the German part of the Baltic Sea will be connected to the mainland grid. Up to 4000 MW from other offshore wind farms will follow.
To balance the energy needs of so many customers with the sensitivity of the environment – with such a large and complex infrastructure – is not an easy task. Also, their environmental activities are governed by the Federal State and seven different “Länder” (German states).
A recent pilot project, with the support of the EU Commission, is the Ecological Management of Forest Aisles – a special development to ensure the least possible influence on the environment from power transmission lines.
Some of other environmental initiatives undertaken by 50Hertz are:
• Installing over 300 nesting aids – for instance boxes, baskets, and aerie underlays – on pylons to support numbers of daw, kestrel, and hobby falcon, as well as osprey known for their predilection for brooding on transmission pylons.
• In heavily wooded areas, they are implementing a new corridor management policy to care for and develop these habitats.
• In agricultural areas, the ground under pylons support indigenous grasses, shrubs and partial wood crops, all of which serve as ‘islands of retreat’ and stepping stone habitats. Where technically possible, they protect all naturally occurring plant growth.
• Close cooperation with NGOs, such as WWF and Germanwatch, in the “Renewables Grid Initiative” to support a socially and environmentally sound development of the grid as pre-condition to integrate more renewable energy into the electric system.
Balancing energy, finance, user and environmental needs
50Hertz Transmission is mandated to purchase all electricity from renewable energy that is produced in its area. And this is already today a huge amount of more than 12.000 MW, a third of all production capacities in its area. If there are high winds, the wind farms will produce more energy. This may not be matched by an increase in energy demand!
By law the company is obliged to purchase that renewable energy at a specified price. It must then sell that energy at the power exchange at market prices, which are usually much less than the price to be paid to the producer. That gap between the subsidized price and market price has to be financed, somehow. The cost of finance can often push the company into a tight financial situation before it is reflected in the grid rates.
Transmission system operation is a natural monopoly and therefore subject to strict regulation. The company is charged with making no profits, and normally also no losses. In a good year it breaks even. The management team of 50Hertz has the unenviable task of managing this massive enterprise with fine precision and sensitivity. This balancing act is carried out in many areas by hard daily work:
• Balancing energy produced with energy needed at any second,
• Balancing costs, expenses and finance,
• Balancing power consumer demands with environmental concerns.
So, with constantly growing demands for integrating new (renewable) producers – and the consequent need to enlarge the grid – with the need for a stable legal and environmental accountability, Mr Schwarzbach says they owe their success to three things:
1. Their very experienced and committed staff,
2. Their customers, mainly the electricity distribution companies, they have a close relationship with, and
3. Their shareholders who provide the much-needed financial strength for operations and grid expansion.
It’s a fine balance between so many things and they continually strive to get it better each year.