This is how electricity could be rationed – politics
Germany’s consumer advocates and the auto industry have often been at odds, but this time they’re fighting together. “Considerable uncertainties” threatened that the whole thing was “unreasonable”. The Federal Network Agency’s plans are “strictly rejected”. The tone has become sharp – because it is about the distribution of Electricity in the German network. More precisely: the question of whether the owners of electric cars, electricity storage systems or heat pumps will always have enough electricity in the future. Or whether there can also be hours when their current flow is throttled.
This is due to possible bottlenecks in the regional distribution grids. By 2030, the federal government wants to see 15 million electric cars on German roads, and 500,000 heat pumps are to be connected every year in the future. If everyone draws electricity, it can get tight – after all, every power line only has a limited capacity. “This is the same effect as using the washing machine, dryer and hair dryer at the same time at home,” says the Bonn network authority. This can also overload the power grid at home. But you don’t want to let it get to that point in the local lines.
The network agency has far-reaching powers for this, and it intends to make use of them. As early as November, she published a key issues paper that was intended to open the debate. That has been thoroughly successful. “The electrification of the heating and transport sectors is a very important pillar of the energy transition,” it says. “Indispensable” is therefore the rapid expansion of the local distribution networks. “At the same time, there should not be more power outages due to overloading of local lines.”
The authority’s proposal: If such an overload becomes apparent, heat pumps and wall boxes should be throttled in their power consumption to a maximum of 3.7 kilowatts. Common wall boxes charge with eleven kW. Even with the reduced output, an empty electric car can be charged in three hours so that it can travel 50 kilometers, according to the Bonn authorities. Moreover, it is in the interest of all consumers that the network is stable. And once it has been upgraded, the problem will take care of itself anyway.
But the gulf between those who want to use the network and those who operate it is deep. Hildegard Müller, for example, the head of the VDA automobile association, was also once the head of the BDEW electricity association, and later she sat on the board of the former RWE subsidiary Innogy. “I know the structures in the electricity industry very well,” she says. “We have to do everything we can to ensure that the network expansion and the digitization of the networks progress more quickly.” However, if the new rules actually came into force, it could “severely impair the acceptance of e-mobility,” Müller fears. Even if it is not yet clear whether and how often the charging power is dimmed in a household – according to Müller, the theoretical possibility alone is enough for people to consider buying an electric car: “That unsettles people to a considerable extent .”
What particularly annoys Müller: “It’s unnecessary.” You could solve that differently, for example via time-variable network charges. This means that electricity becomes more expensive when peak loads are to be expected, for example in the evening. On the other hand, if you charge your electric car during the day or later at night, you pay less. The power grid operators, on the other hand, see the Bonn proposal as the best way to quickly stabilize grids. The decisive factor is “the practicability of the new regulation,” says the electricity association BDEW.
Network operators accuse the auto industry of scaremongering
In any case, the network operators find all the excitement exaggerated. Christoph Müller, head of Netze BW, the largest network operator in Baden-Württemberg, speaks of “fantasy scenarios” that government representatives held up to him in discussion rounds. For example, that an e-car owner just manages to get home with an almost empty battery, but then can no longer charge it and also has no more electricity for hot food. It’s all scaremongering, says Müller. Such a case would not exist even with the new regulation, since the electricity should never be completely switched off and only wall boxes or heat pumps would be affected by a possible throttling.
The network operators also see the challenge that millions of e-cars and heat pumps bring with them. Because these need significantly more power than kettles or hair dryers, especially if many of them are connected to the socket at the same time. The head of Netze-BW considers the solution proposed by the Federal Network Agency to be “simple and pragmatic”. Because if the electricity has to be throttled somewhere, the order is also associated with it, the affected local network, i.e. the last mile in the power supply, expand. But Christoph Müller also admits: “It costs time and money.”