Guidelines for planning grid expansion

One thing in particular is important to us when we are expanding or redesigning a power line or substation: the effects on people, nature and the environment should be kept to a minimum, both during construction and later in operation. However, it’s not always possible to fully reconcile all interests – and every case is different. How our planners deal with competing interests, such as those of local residents and nature conservation, therefore depends on the specific case. The decision as to whether the route can be implemented as requested by us rests with the respective authority.

Legally established: The “NOVA” principle and prioritisation of underground cabling

First of all, we examine whether it’s actually necessary to build a new power line. In many cases, it’s possible to optimise or upgrade an existing line or substation. And this is also the course of action stipulated by the NOVA principle anchored in the Network Development Plan and laid down by the lawmakers in the Energy Industry Act (EnWG): first grid optimisation, then upgrade, and only then expansion.

In addition, since 2016, underground cables have been given priority for high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission projects that have been identified accordingly in the Federal Requirement Plan – new overhead lines are only to be built if existing routes can be used or reasons related to nature conservation demand them. In addition, responsible local authorities such as towns and municipalities can require an appropriate audit. The Federal Network Agency provides information on the special requirements that result from the federal sectoral planning of these projects in a position paper on underground cable methodology. Our new Ultranet power link, which is to be implemented as a hybrid line on existing pylons, is expressly excluded from this prioritisation given to underground cables.

Solution-oriented route planning: our guidelines

If we need a new power link, we will examine different route variants and technical options for each project. In order to determine suitable routes (including in the context of regional planning), we are guided by the following principles:

  • Where feasible, we use existing routes for new construction – also to protect private properties.
  • If possible, we will bundle a new link with linear infrastructure, primarily with other power lines, but also with railway routes or roads. In addition, we strive to keep the routes as straight as possible.
  • We try to create the most direct and shortest possible routes – on the one hand, to minimise interference with the environment and the impact on local residents, but also to keep costs affordable.
  • We take care to keep a sufficient distance to settlements and single dwellings.
  • Wherever possible, we avoid using areas that have a high value for the ecosystem, the landscape or recreation.
  • We want to keep restrictions on agricultural use to a minimum.
  • We take account of municipal and specialist development plans, such as land-use (i.e. zoning) and landscape plans.

However, none of these aspects can be given general precedence as long as the mandatory legal requirements are met. The multitude of – often contradictory – concerns must be carefully weighed against each other in each individual case.