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Energiewende: being part of the biggest change in modern energy systems

The significant changes sweeping through Germany’s national power system demand innovative solutions. ABB’s technology is helping to reinforce the grid

In early 2000, I made a big change in my life. Following my high school graduation, I chose to study business administration and engineering with a special focus on power technologies. At the time, most people were skeptical, warning me that I could end up with quite a dull career, taking care of these large power plants, or inflexible old transmission and distribution networks. How could anything interesting ever happen there?

But in parallel with my career choice, the German Federal Government initiated the Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (Renewable Energy Act), which has sparked some of the most significant changes in a modern energy system in recent decades. Close to 80 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic and wind power generation have been installed in Germany since the act was signed, so theoretically Germany’s peak load could be covered by renewable generation. This is just one example of the way these changes are forcing European and especially German power systems to come up with new solutions to balance power supply and demand.

Four years ago the transformation of Germany’s energy system, the so-called Energiewende (energy shift), was further accelerated by the decision to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. They will not simply be replaced by other fossil-fuel powered plants, but with large onshore and offshore wind power plants like those in Northern Germany, which in turn is driving the demand for reliable new interconnections – within Germany, and with its neighbors.

High-voltage direct current (HVDC) technology has been chosen to create some of these new interconnections, including the Nord-Süd HGÜ-Korridore (North-South HVDC Corridors) within Germany to connect and balance wind farms in the north with large photovoltaic generation and load centers in the south. Modern HVDC converters will be used here, similar to the recently commissioned Skagerrak 4 project, where ABB installed a 500 kilovolt (kV) converter station that marks a new record for transmission voltage using Voltage Source Converters (VSC).

There has also been a growing demand for underground cabling, which is supported by the German government. Here, too, ABB has just unveiled another ground-breaking product, the 525 kV XLPE insulated HVDC cable which has a transmission capacity of up to 2,600 megawatts (MW). All relevant industry standard tests are completed, and this high-voltage underground cable provides some distinct advantages compared to traditional cable technology.

These are just a few examples to show how HVDC technology supports the integration of renewable power generation into our electrical grids, and is enabling the transformation of our energy systems around the globe. In general, one can say that new market models and technologies have to be applied to stabilize our energy systems once again – and that we are making good progress down this path. I’m really proud of our products and solutions, and can happily report that no one is calling my career choice langweilig (boring) anymore.

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