Interview: Europe needs ‘electricity highways’

A conference organised by UCTE, the Union for the Coordination of Transmission of Electricity, will try to fill a communication gap between policymakers and technicians, Dr. Klaus Kleinekorte, managing director of German energy giant RWE, told EURACTIV in an interview.

The aim of the conference, to be held on 8 January 2009 in the European Parliament, is to focus for the first time on the problems of the electricity grid rather than on the electricity sector in general, Kleinekorte explained. 

One of the problems to be debated is interoperability of TSO (transmission system operators), responsible for the “transport layer”, the RWE director said. He compared the interoperability of grids to driving a car across highways in different countries, which requires matching roads at each border. 

“We would like to say, hey guys, there is a system that serves you with electricity, and there are various complexities behind. And the challenge is to make that a little bit more understandable,” Kleinekorte said. 

Kleinekorte, who is also head of a UCTE working group on pperations and security of the electricity grid, said he was not speaking as an RWE representative, but rather repesenting the community of TSOs, of which he is the convener of the work group on operations and security. 

“The transport layer is really the backbone of security,” Kleinekorte argued, adding that if the political objective is to expand the electricity market all over Europe, what is needed is a better understanding of “the transport business”. 

He expressed the hope that politicians would benefit from “broader understanding” of the complexity of the functioning of the grids in Europe, meaning “how this really works from a technical point of view, not a regulatory point of view”. 

Kleinekorte gave two examples of the communication gap between decision-makers and technicians. The first is when politicians set goals for a more interconnected electricity market without making clear who is going to pay for what. The second is when requests are made to build additional power lines as soon as possible, while the necessary environmental impact assessment takes at least two years. 

“If you want to expand the electricity market all over Europe, you need the highways for electricity. How do we interoperate? How we make that happen? We would like the technical issues to be a little bit more transparent to those who have less connection to the technical issues,” he said. 

He added that environmentalists were also invited to the conference, as the major goal was not to polarise those who are keen to build additional lines and those who oppose this. 

“The aim is, on a quite neutral basis, to say: there are challenges to keeping the light on,” said Kleinekorte. 

To read the full version of this interview, please click here.

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