Experts: Investments are needed in the development of energy networks, not only in the addition of new renewable energy sources

About 70% of the green plants are connected to the distribution network

Energy / Bulgaria , Green Transition
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Source: Georgi Velev / 3eNews

George Velev

In addition to investments in new renewable energy plants, it is important to focus on the maintenance and modernization of the electricity transmission and distribution networks in our country. They will be the backbone of the future green economy and the mindset and investment in these networks must be changed. This became clear from the statements of energy experts during the "Energy for a Green Future" forum, organized by the Ministry of Energy.

So far in Bulgaria we have focused on investments and developing the production of green energy, and less attention is paid to the fact that the entry of RES plants requires a new kind of vision and construction of the network. The current network in our country was built to work under other principles and conditions. Currently, connecting the new RES plants will require a serious upgrade of the transmission capacity of the network. I would even say at least twice as strong a network. This was explained to the forum by Diiter Zarchev, head of the Board of Directors of the Electricity System Operator.

He recalled that currently the production of RES energy is concentrated far from the main energy capacities and consumption - it is already in agricultural areas with an underdeveloped electricity network. This creates difficulties in connecting green energy. There are also difficulties in balancing this energy, which literally has to be "driven" from low to medium voltage and vice versa.

According to Valentin Kolev, a way must be found to accumulate the produced energy and use it at times of peak consumption. For example, the energy produced in the summer is stored and used in the winter. He recalled that there are already requests for the connection of 18,000 MW of RES capacity in our country.

It is important to focus our attention on investments not only in the electricity transmission network, but also in the electricity distribution network. The reason is that 96-97% of consumers in Europe and in our country are connected to distribution networks, explained Kaloyan Staykov, senior economist at the Institute for Energy Management. It is the costs here, at the "last mile", that are huge and investments in the network are needed, he explained. According to the available data, about 70% of the photovoltaic plants in Bulgaria are connected to the distribution network. In Europe as well - 75% are connected to the distribution and this trend will continue in the future, explained Stajkov. "Obviously the challenges are focused on that network and that's going to be a challenge for us. We are already seeing problems with renewables coming in, and security of supply could also be a problem," he explained. According to the EMI expert, another key issue is the improvement of intersystem connectivity now. According to Stajkov, the distribution network should become a policy priority now, and there are technical solutions.

Large-scale investments in RES plants and infrastructure are important. However, their current level is not enough. This was explained by George Giouris from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. According to him, by 2050, investments must increase at least threefold to achieve carbon neutrality goals. By 2030, in the region of South-East Europe, 6 billion dollars per year will be needed in investments for the transmission infrastructure. He pointed out that networks need to become smarter, more resilient to adverse weather conditions, and protected from cyber risks. Through technical cooperation projects, the bank supports various government bodies and private companies to secure the necessary investments.

According to Kalina Trifonova from EVN, the challenges facing the low voltage network are enormous. Therefore, investments for the development of the distribution and transmission network are key. She gave the example of Yambol region, where in the summer there is an overproduction of green energy, which must be fed back to the grid at medium and even high voltage. This "energy dissipation" leads to problems for the balancing of the system as well. Attempts are currently being made to manage existing flows. Not only photovoltaics and decentralized production create problems for the grid, but also the growth of cities, especially Sofia and Plovdiv. Therefore, many new substations are being built, including urban ones, to enable the creation of flexible networks. It is not only a question of investments, but planning is also necessary, Trifonova was categorical.

Zornitsa Genova from "Electrohold" pointed out that since we all know that consumption will increase, we must know how the networks will last. Therefore digitization of networks must be done and to improve the cyber security of energy systems. ERM West already has a project for the purchase of 450,000 new smart electricity meters and is working to modernize its GIS system. The company applied with a project for BGN 39 million to the EU Modernization Fund. But investments must increase further. She believes that in the network services part, there should be a greater weight on the fixed components, Genova believes.

The share of the access price should also be larger. This means an increase in network tariffs and this will affect all users. A dialogue with EWRC is also needed in this direction.

Eric Rakhu of the Boston Consulting Group explained that there is a need to at least triple the RES production, but first investments in the network must be foreseen. At the global level, there is also a need for flexibility. In the first place, the development of the networks should be done, and then the new RES capacities should be built.

Official Deputy Minister of Energy Elenko Bozhkov pointed out that one cannot talk about the development of the networks without digitizing them. Therefore, they must be digitized. Furthermore, one cannot talk about networks of the future without fixing the methodologies for network services. According to him, in any case, prices for network services will go up.

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