This article is part of our special report Local utilities in the energy transition.
Local infrastructure companies like Wiener Stadtwerke are already working hard to achieve the ambitious EU climate and energy goals for 2050. We can innovate and incite changes – but only if a supportive European regulatory framework is in place.
Peter Weinelt is Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Wiener Stadtwerke GmbH.
Vienna is the world’s top city regarding quality of life. The city’s sustainable development is one of the core goals of the Viennese government. Wiener Stadtwerke plays a key role in this process, not only for the city as such but also, for its almost 2 million citizens. Our city is one of the most dynamic metropolitan areas in Europe. Vienna is characterised by a persistent increase in new residents as a result of its high level of economic power and quality of life. This economic and population growth, however, also entails challenges relating to power supply and environmental protection. Without efforts of the city of Vienna, Austria’s climate goals are out of reach. Wiener Stadtwerke invests in innovation and security of supply at the same time, making a decisive contribution to ensuring that Vienna remains exemplary.
We have recently examined several decarbonisation scenarios for the city of Vienna with a time horizon of 2050 for the sectors of heating, mobility and power and presented the study results lately in Brussels. One of the key findings of the study is that the transport and heating sector offer the greatest potential for decarbonisation. It is therefore necessary to conceptualise the decarbonisation of the energy system beyond only switching to renewable power sources, and to plan, regulate and implement this at the level of total energy requirements in the mobility and power sectors.
In order to make Vienna’s central heat supply emission-free until 2050, a switch to regenerative district heating is necessary. Today’s heat supply of Vienna is already very environmentally friendly, however geothermal energy and large heat pumps offer the greatest potential for a further transition to a low-carbon heat supply.
As a local utility provider, we must rely on long-term planning since investments last 40 years or longer. In case of replacing a power plant, we have to ask: replace it by what?
The recently agreed climate goals within the Clean Energy Package offer a good foundation for planning investments until 2030. It can be considered as a starting point for the debate what needs to be done to reach the 2050 goals on the road to decarbonisation. There are four basic requirements from our point of view:
- The key-prerequisite to achieve the ambitious climate objectives is a functioning energy market design, which is currently in the final negotiation phase at the EU-level.
It is essential to define clear roles for all actors, especially for Distribution System Operators (DSO) and new market actors such as aggregators or local energy communities. When it comes to DSOs it is important that they are not restricted by a too regulative environment/framework. DSOs need flexibility to fulfill their duties, such as providing security of supply or acting as market facilitator and neutral data platform. Therefore, it is important that they are allowed to own and use storage facilities for grid-related purposes. It goes without saying that these are not meant for market-activities, but grid-stabilization only.
- Fair rules for all actors. Same rights and obligations are absolutely essential for the future energy market, with equal rules for local energy communities, active customers, aggregators etc.
DSOs as market facilitators should retain the function of the neutral data hub (owner and operator) beyond network operation (planning, construction, maintenance, operation, maintenance, asset management, bottleneck management and maintaining grid stability) and adapt it to the technical development. Network operators should remain the owner and operator of the (smart) meter and have the power of disposal at the customer counter.
- Recognition of the importance of the gas grid for the future. Studies have shown that transition-costs are much lower with the gas-grid in place than without. There are various new possibilities for renewable and/or synthetic gas. It will be necessary to start with a large-scale switch from natural gas to renewable fuels from 2025 in order to ensure that security of supply is CO2-free in the long term. Greening the gas, i.e. the switch to renewable (green) gases such as biomethane and hydrogen, plays an important role.
- Recognition of the pivotal role of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) for cities asback-up capacities.The expansion of renewable energy generation leads to daily and seasonal supply gaps. In addition, flexible thermal power plants are less and less used, but are essential for security of supply, if renewable energies such as wind and solar are not available. In order to ensure the long-term availability of flexibly usable power plants for these periods, a stable framework must be created for power plant operators. The combined generation of electricity and heat also saves primary energy and thus CO2. Therefore, conditions have to be created that make investments and the operation of CHPs economically feasible in the long-term.
The decisions we have to make now have effects on the next two generations. Therefore it is important to start working immediately. Whether we reach the goal 100% or not, we have to start now, and decide before 2025 how we replace power plants, for instance.
All in all, the right European regulatory framework is needed – then local utilities can innovate and incite changes. As a DSO we need the entrepreneurial air to breathe, to create a 100% renewable energy system, for a sustainable future society we want to live in, for the people. I’m very optimistic that we are already on the right track.