Czech electricity grid company ready to block German wind power

Czechs and Poles on the verge of sending disruptive flows of German wind-produced electricity back down the lines to the sender

Czech numbers|Energy & Green Biz
Chris Johnstone | 04.11.2011
The Czech electricity grid operator ČEPS says that without action against German wind power its network will collapse its network

The Czech Republic is facing the growing prospect of being forced to block disruptive and volatile flows of German wind-produced electricity through its power network in what would be a powerful signal to Berlin to sort out its internal energy market.

Large amounts of wind-produced electricity from northern Germany are now being shipped through the Czech Republic to German customers in the south of the country — and onwards towards Austria — because of the insufficiencies of the north-south German electricity grid.

But Poland, with the Czech Republic close behind, is getting increasingly angry and concerned at providing the solutions for Germany’s energy problems. Poland is in pole position to construct so-called phase-shifting transformers (PSTs) along its border, which would effectively detour the German electricity flows.

But such a detour would increase pressure on the relatively sturdy Czech electricity grid to soak up more of the pressure from Germany’s wind-produced power surges, with Czech state-owned high-voltage network operator ČEPS saying that it is considering a similar step.

“In principle, we would like them [the PSTs],” ČEPS’ board member responsible for energy trade and foreign relations, Zbyněk Boldiš, told Czech Position in the wings of an energy conference on Thursday about the prospects of a European energy market. “This is something that is easy to do, and it is technically viable.”

Zbyněk Boldiš
Final talks

Boldiš said ČEPS is ready to ask its shareholder, the Czech state, for the go ahead to build the PSTs along the Czech-German border, if final last ditch talks between Warsaw and Berlin to try and solve the problem of disruptive German power flows is not solved.

“We met with the Polish side last Friday [Oct. 28] to discuss the situation, and it is pretty clear that these devices will have to be built,” Boldiš explained, adding that the Polish power grid was not as robust as the Czech one. It is simply not feasible for Germany to build new north-south power lines to relieve the existing situation before it reached a crisis point. “We are facing a situation where our own network could collapse as well because of this,” Boldiš added.

‘We met with the Polish side last Friday [Oct. 28] to discuss the situation, and it is pretty clear that these devices will have to be built.’

The ČEPS manager was blunt in his message that Germany should get to grips with its power market problems and, if necessary, curb the output of wind power plants in the north of the country or limit the distance that electricity is being shipped across the country and into neighboring Austria.

Boldiš said the steps being weighed by Polish and Czech network operators would be welcomed by their German peers — who would finally have a reason for tackle the problems created by the large wind farms in the north of the country, far from centers of population and demand.

“These wind power producers do not give a toss about the security of our domestic electricity network,” he said. “With this wind power, what we have is a sort of situation where you put some sort of ecological car on the road and it creates congestion not just on the road it is travelling down but also in the opposite direction.”

Unstable flows

The problem of unstable flows of German wind-produced power is exacerbated by the fact that Austria is a keen buyer of the cheap power for its pumped-storage hydroelectric plants, using the low cost power to pump water into high-placed reservoirs which can power turbines for peak demand. “There are around 5,500 MW of such electricity flows from Germany to Austria which is contributing to congestion of the Central European energy market,” Boldiš said. “Around 35 percent of these flows are coming through our territory.”

Germany showed no signs of trying to limit such long-distance power flows with the national power regulator if anything backing the concept of the largest possible market for trading and delivering power, he added.

Boldiš said the bill for building the power deflecting PSTs on the Czech-German border would be at least Kč 2 billion. “It could even be twice that amount, but it certainly will not be anything less,” he said. “Maybe we could seek to get the bill paid in Brussels [by the European Commission] or in Berlin.”

‘These wind power producers do not give a toss about the security of our domestic electricity network.’

The ČEPS manager blames part of the problem now being faced on European Union incentives for renewable power which do not take into account whether electricity grids, national or regional, are adequate to deal with the extra capacity.

“The problem is that this is a very localized power source and there is simply no-one living there is northern Germany where the power is produced,” Boldiš said. Another problem is the vast disparity between the time taken to get permission and build a new wind plant, around two years, and the 7-10.5 years needed to build high-voltage power lines. “This is really one thing that the EU should address,” he commented.

Cross-border squeeze

The volatile flows of German electricity is also putting a squeeze on cross-border trading of electricity, something that the EU would like to see increase, because space capacity has to be left-aside to take account of the possible surges.

While the Czech grid operator is compensated for the flows of German power, ČEPS is not entirely happy about the payment system currently in place and is seeking a review of the European rules that would give it a much better deal.

Green groups defend wind power, saying is not so disruptive if combined with other renewables which have the effect of evening out the different peaks and troughs in power production. They also blame national grid operators and governments for not giving enough emphasis to small renewables projects which would deliver electricity locally and not put a heavy burden on the national grid. 

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