For more than two years now there has been a discussion in Germany as to whether and to what extent grid operators are allowed to intervene in the charging and heating processes of electric vehicles and heat pumps in the event of grid bottlenecks. Then as now, the network operators argued that network stability could no longer be guaranteed without such control rights.
And then, as now, they reassure people that no loss of comfort or even restrictions on use are to be expected with electric cars and heat pumps.
Anyone who describes the concerns of consumers as old wives' tales, as Kerstin Andreae, Chair of the Executive Board of the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), did at WELT, and thus refers them to the realm of fables and legends, should have good arguments for it delivery. After all, power supply, mobility and heat are basic needs that must be guaranteed everywhere in Germany - and at all times.
Lip service by the energy industry to wanting to use control rights only as a last resort is therefore not enough: what is needed is reliability. This is the only way to gain consumer trust and acceptance in and for new technologies, electric cars or heat pumps - and in the success of the transformation to climate neutrality in general.
There are good reasons to doubt that this reliability can be met with the concepts available to date: According to the current plans of the Federal Network Agency, interventions in the charging processes for electric cars should be permitted without any time limit.
Consumer advocates, parts of the energy industry as well as the heat pump and automotive industries have recently criticized this in unison. Above all, there is a lack of concrete guarantees that control interventions by the respective network operator will be limited to a few individual cases per year. In addition, there are considerable legal doubts as to whether such an approach is proportionate and compatible with EU law.
One thing is clear: In view of the magnitude of the upcoming challenges for the power grids, the principle of hope is the wrong approach. These figures make that particularly clear: According to plans by the federal government, electricity consumption is to increase by forty percent over the next eight years.
The demands on the power grids will increase even faster: The capacity of the German power grids will have to double by 2030 in order to be able to cope with the volatile renewable energies and their generation peaks at particularly sunny or windy times. A mammoth task that requires great effort.
A comprehensive master plan for the further development of the power grids is therefore now necessary. Above all, three points are essential, which must be supported by concrete measures.
First: The new Germany speed must finally also take effect in the power grid. The federal government's master plan for charging infrastructure II envisages a forward-looking expansion – i.e. an expansion based on future needs – of the almost two million kilometers of electricity grids.
What is needed here is a convincing strategy for how this forward-looking expansion can succeed. As the regulator, the Federal Network Agency is responsible for creating the necessary conditions. Investments in the networks must be able to remain attractive for their operators even in times of high inflation.
Secondly, the energy industry needs a clear commitment to fully digitize the grids. To put it bluntly: if the largest German network operator, Eon, publicly admits that it is “more or less blind” in the distribution network, and if the network operators still want to use timers to control electric cars by the end of 2028, and in some cases beyond, then then there is an absolute need for action in the German energy transition.
In this respect, too, the Federal Network Agency is called upon to finally adequately recognize and compensate for the costs of digital upgrading.
Third: Market incentives are required for intelligent and, in the future, even bidirectional control of electric cars. Because: Electric cars are not a burden on the power grid, but part of the solution. They will play a crucial role in ensuring an affordable electricity supply and in stabilizing the power grids - if the right framework conditions are in place.
This also includes flexible electricity tariffs, with which more electric cars can be charged when renewable energies are available in abundance and at low cost. Variable network fees can also be used to shift charging processes to off-peak times when network utilization is low.
Consumers would therefore benefit financially if they voluntarily behave in a way that is beneficial to the system - the intelligent charging management systems required for this are already available today.
By the way: 21 out of 27 EU member states have already introduced time-varying network charges. And for Germany, too, numerous scientific studies confirm the economic benefit of these market-based control instruments: They help to manage the power grids more efficiently. In this way, the costs for the necessary expansion can be reduced. Ultimately, everyone benefits from this, including citizens without electric cars or heat pumps.
Together with consumer advocates, the heat pump industry and the innovative part of the energy industry, the German automotive industry will continue to push for intelligent solutions. The common goal is a secure and affordable power supply - so that concerns about electricity rationing will soon actually belong to the realm of fables and legends.
Hildegard Müller has been President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) since February 1, 2020.
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