The German and Belgian transmission system operators Amprion and Elia have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to build a second cross-border power connection, a so-called interconnector. Studies in advance have shown that a second interconnector can help cover the future energy needs of both countries. Therefore, it pays off economically for the population in Belgium, Germany, and throughout Europe. By mid-2024, Amprion and Elia want to present a concept paper that will serve as the basis for the further elaboration and development of the project.

First step in a long process

The signing ceremony for the MoU took place against the background of today’s Belgian-German energy summit in Zeebrugge. The participants included Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Belgian Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten and State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection Dr. Patrick Graichen. The MoU is the first step in a long process. In a joint study, Elia and Amprion are now working out which configuration and technology can best be used to achieve the project goals. A concept paper on this is expected to be published by mid-2024.

Commissioning not before 2037

How the final investment decision will turn out depends on several criteria. For example, the project should contribute to integrating renewable energies into the energy systems of both countries, strengthen their security of supply and positively influence the European electricity market (price convergence). Assuming a positive business case, the interconnector cannot be expected to go into operation until after 2037. First, the domestic networks must be strengthened to optimally integrate the interconnector into the system.

“Together, Elia and Amprion want to decarbonise the European energy system and improve security of supply and system stability. Electrification plays a crucial role in this. We already know that a climate-neutral energy supply in Europe will result in a significantly higher demand for electricity. To meet this need, we need to integrate large amounts of renewable energy into the power system and transport it to where it is needed. Therefore, the inner-European exchange of energy is particularly important in order to achieve the climate goals. Accordingly, it is our task to increase the electricity transport capacity between Belgium and Germany and throughout Europe. An important milestone in achieving these goals is the realisation of a second interconnector between Belgium and Germany,” says Dr. Hendrik Neumann, CTO of Amprion.

“The Elia Group study on the electrification of industry has shown that electrification and access to renewable energy ensure long-term price stability,” said Chris Peeters, CEO of Elia Group. “The energy transition not only has an impact on the climate but also has a positive socio-economic impact. Using the example of (ALEGrO) (Aachen Liège Electricity Grid Overlay), we have already seen the importance and success of such projects. We know that further interconnectors are needed between Belgium and Germany, and we act immediately, also thanks to a very good partnership with our colleagues at Amprion. We look forward to participating in the construction of an infrastructure that is of strategic importance for Belgium and Germany.”

Great success from ALEGrO

The first Belgian-German power connection ALEGrO went into operation in November 2020 and is an important building block for developing an integrated European power grid. Since commissioning, the two countries have exchanged electricity totalling 10 TWh. In 2022, ALEGrO enabled an electricity exchange of 5 TWh between Belgium and Germany. Electricity flowed to Belgium for 63 percent of the year and to Germany for 37 percent of the year.

Make the energy system more sustainable and independent

The war in Ukraine made it clear that energy is a precious resource of strategic importance. The European Commission confirmed this in May 2022 with the publication of the REPowerEU plan, which is intended to make Europe less dependent on Russian gas and set even more ambitious energy targets based on the EU climate protection package Fit For 55. According to Elia and Amprion, faster development of additional onshore and offshore (hybrid) interconnectors is crucial for the energy transition because these support the energy systems with regard to the integration of increasing amounts of renewable energy.

Interconnectors offer numerous advantages

Europe’s renewable energy potential is unevenly distributed across the continent, so countries like Belgium and Germany will have to turn to renewable energy sources from other European countries to meet their future electricity needs. Interconnectors offer a number of advantages here: they facilitate Europe-wide access to renewable energies and flexible supply options, such as large hydroelectric power plants, and compensate for local fluctuations in wind power supply. This improves the security of supply and flattens the price curves between the different markets.

Cost/benefit ratio from 2035

Preliminary results have already shown that the cost/benefit ratio of a second Belgian-German interconnector from 2035 would be positive. Therefore, the project was approved as part of the German grid development plan presented in 2021. Belgium’s federal development plans for 2020-2030 and 2024-2034 and the Ten-Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP) of the European Transmission System Operators Association (ENTSO-E) also confirm that positive results can be expected from an interconnector. As a result, it contributes to securing the socio-economic status in both countries (as well as across Europe), helps to reduce CO2 emissions and supports the integration of increasing amounts of renewable energy into the grid.

Image source: Courtesy of Amprion

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