Energinet mulls status as slowest part of offshore wind build-out

Network expansion is a slow process, and Danish TSO Energinet can't expedite the process on its own. The operator thus hopes for more flexible forward-looking processes as well as improved precision in site planning.
Photo: Prysmian Group / PR
Photo: Prysmian Group / PR

Offshore 2019:

One can almost become nostalgic about the happy days of the 1980s, with heaps of fondue, Duran Duran and thousands of kilometers of new network cables.

From 1978 to 1989, more than 3,500 kilometers of new 220-400 kV transmission lines per year – three times the annual build-out since 2010.

The level from the 80s needs to be repeated if transmission capacity is going to successfully carry several hundred GW of offshore wind effect as is planned to come online ahead to 2050. Ørsted points specifically to the grid extension's speed as a challenge in the utility's new proposal for a European Green New Deal, entailing 450 GW of new offshore wind capacity.

The arrow thus points toward transmission system operators (TSOs), and despite the fact that, during a presentation at the Offshore 2019 conference held in Copenhagen this week, WindEurope Chief Executive Giles Dickson said "Energinet is the only [TSO] along with Tennet that is taking the challenge seriously," Energinet feels struck.

"We are presented as if we were very slow in Ørsted's report. And that may be true, but it takes a long time to build these things ... and we're talking about [DKK] billions in investments that will end up occupying the landscape in 40-50 years. These aren't easy decisions, but there are also areas in which we can act quicker," says Hanne Storm Edlefsen, divisional head of strategic planning at Energinet.

"On average, it takes a TSO eight years to build an interconnector. That's a long time, and it's also too long, but we are several parties sharing that responsibility – and multiple players will be needed to solve it," she adds.

A bright spot in the sector's proposal

Another element in Ørsted's most recent plan entails future offshore wind farms being installed in clusters based on a zoning principle – an example of how this could manifest came from Ørsted Monday, when the utility aired its vision of developing an energy island on and around Denmark's Baltic island of Bornholm, Rønne Banke, where an initial effect of 1 GW could be expanded to 5 GW.

Such projects would make Energinet's work markedly easier.

"We're trying to prepare, but we also need to expand smarter and with more coordination. An internationally coordinated effort will be needed instead of us extending by one wind farm at a time," Edlefsen says.

Specifically, a coordinated build-out involving the connection of several offshore wind farms using the same interconnectors would reduce Energinet's need for interconnectors by 25 percent, Ørsted writes. And facilities constructed with a view to further expansion are also massively beneficial for the Danish TSO.

"The equipment we're building will last for 40-50 years, so there is, naturally, always an advantage from thinking in a more long-term perspective. So, a wind farm can begin with 2 GW and then later be scaled up to 10 GW. It's an ideal situation for us to know about it from the offset," Edlefsen says.

More flexible processes 

The issue for TSOs is the variety of players taking part in decision-making processes prior to, for instance, Energinet at all being able to start the actual expansion work.

"Much of it is about getting the different companies to sit down together. There are municipal local plans, plans of utilities, the Danish Energy Agency has roles, environmental groups have other roles, and everything must be approved at all stages before we can do anything. And then there's the political level, which is needed to create long-term frameworks and a stable investment market. All of this happens before we bury cables and erect suspended power lines," she adds.

But if it's going to work out well, perhaps the understanding of TSOs as the heel-dragging party concerning offshore wind needs to be revised.

"It's a slow process. If we become better at predicting where needs arise and become more confident about taking certain decisions – then this is an issue we could solve faster in unity," Edlefsen says.

English Edit: Daniel Frank Christensen

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