Connecting new solar plants to the grid should come with less red tape
“Put your address here. And here. And here too please.”
Choosing a solar system, finding the right revenue model, navigating rules and regulations, coordinating suppliers: When it comes to going solar there’s hardly an easy part. However, one of the most challenging aspects of getting a new solar plant connected to the grid is… well, connecting it to the grid. Part of the reason for this is that there are almost 900 different grid operators in Germany, many of which have completely different approaches and processes in place.
Incidentally, connecting new plants to the grid is exactly what Germany needs from solar companies – and in increasing rates. If we are to drive the energy transition and achieve the European climate goals, there’s no way around a decentralized energy system consisting of many smaller power plants running on renewables. In the last seven years, ENVIRIA has implemented over 100 such projects – most of which entailed connecting the new plant to the local grid. And with every new project, the application process started all over again: there were new requirements to be met, new formats to be adopted, new hurdles to overcome.
Certainly not only solar providers like ENVIRIA face these challenges, but also grid operators themselves. This applies to the larger operators, who have standardized processes and dedicated personnel with a certain degree of expertise in such matters. And it applies even more to the many small system operators with fewer employees, no dedicated departments and little experience. For all these companies alike, integrating the many new small power plants that join the grid each year poses the same problem: They have to teach their process from scratch to every new company knocking on their door wanting to connect a new power plant to their grid.
All of this is particularly frustrating and unnecessary if one considers that most grid operators need the exact same kind of information from the developers: they need the address, the circuit diagrams , the number and types of modules and inverters, and so on. But not only do they need it in a different format than the grid operator a few kilometers down the road. They also need the same information several times, typed into different forms over and over again for no apparent reason.
The solution is as obvious as it is difficult to implement: We need to standardize the relevant processes across companies. If there were only one simple process with standardized forms, both the EPCs and the grid operators could save a lot of time and money. Even more importantly, we could get power plants connected to the grid much faster, thus safeguarding energy security and reducing CO2-emissions sooner rather than later.
Some of the bigger companies are already working on own solutions, but while this may be laudable, it’s actually just perpetuating the problem: We do not need more individual solutions, even if these solutions are ever so smart and intuitive. Instead, we need to transform the processes of 887 more or less independent grid operators by implementing a standard process that all these companies can live with.
A few start-ups have taken up the cause, as well. However, current offerings cannot map the entire process flow, nor are they even close to integrating all network operators into the new solutions. To tackle an issue of this scale, most start-ups are simply too small.
The obvious institution that should and could provide a blueprint for this is the VDE . So far, however, their attempts at leading the way into a less bureaucratic future have fallen short. A case in point: The example forms included in the VDEs guidelines VDE-AR-N 4105:2018 and VDE-AR-N 4110:2018 remain way too complicated. Here, efficiency has been sacrificed for the sake of security. Where a short and lean process is needed, the VDE went for complexity and redundancy, e.g. still demanding the same address on several forms and so on.
The future holds great challenges for all players in the energy sector. Needless bureaucracy jamming the wheels of progress doesn’t need to be one of them. The VDE – all too often underestimated in its powers – can be the decisive force here. May it be up to the task!