Linking power infrastructure upgrade and regional development

3/8/2006Wien

While electricity consumption in Austria is rapidly on the increase, the construction of power stations and power lines is taking years to decades. “So as not to slither into times of instable power supply with our eyes open, we are in need of a consistent upgrade of the electricity infrastructure in Austria,” Dr. Heinz Kaupa, Chairman of the Board of Management at VERBUND’s electricity grid subsidiary VERBUND-Austrian Power Grid AG (APG), made clear today, Wednesday, at a press conference in Vienna. “We suggest linking the necessary structures and transmission lines to spatial development and regional aid.”

Kaupa: “Despite the fact that power lines today are being built in a far more landscape-compatible and environmentally friendly way than they used to be, particularly the rural population feel disturbed by them. This is why regional aid should be linked with infrastructure facilities.“ In land use planning, rural communities situated in locations where there are infrastructure facilities should be able to designate these infrastructure areas as special-category areas, which can then be used e.g. for cultivating biomass. In exchange, communities would then be entitled to compensatory payments at the same time. “The required systems are already in place, they would simply need to be adapted,” said Kaupa.

A respective aid would come far cheaper, for example, than a complicated cabling system for power lines that - at the highest-voltage level - currently would still cost eight to ten times the price of an aerial line. A blackout would come expensive, too: Depending on the time of day and the day of the week, one hour blackout costs between 40 and 60 million euros. A complete grid recovery in Austria could take anything from five to 24 hours.

Austria’s nationwide electricity grid is urgently in need of an upgrade, which is why VERBUND is pushing the shutdown of the 380 kV Austria Ring. The construction of the Styria and the Salzburg Line is urgently required. The currently needed bottleneck management for the APG grid costs more than 17 million euros a year already.

It seems paradoxical that there is a high willingness to invest in the construction of electricity infrastructure facilities; the VERBUND grid-subsidiary APG, for example, intends to invest a total of around 800 million euros by 2011. However, in many cases the approval procedures are taking far too long, are extremely complicated and expensive.

Austria’s hydroelectric power needs more support

“Austria’s hydroelectric power needs increased and more widespread support if the high degree of independence of domestic electricity production is to be maintained,” Dr. Herbert Schröfelbauer, Chairman of the Board of Management of the VERBUND hydroelectric power subsidiary VERBUND-Austrian Hydro Power AG (AHP) explained. “In Austria, hydroelectric power is at any rate the best alternative to fossil energy resources.”

In Austria two thirds of the hydroelectric power potential has so far been realised. Technically, another 16 billion kWh electricity generated by hydroelectric power could be generated annually, i.e. around a quarter of the total domestic power consumption. Yet already now the EU Water Framework Directive must be taken into account, which from 2015 onward may cause production losses between 2 and 7 percent. In terms of this and economic profitability, VERBUND will in actual fact only be able to realise 1 billion kWh over the next five years.

Until 2015, Austria needs additional electricity production capacities of 3,000 megawatt, at least half of which is to be contributed by VERBUND, according to its latest plans. The major part of the additional power is to be generated by new pump storage power plants such as Limberg II or Malta/Reißeck. Thanks to very precise peak energy supply, these new power plants are capable of improving essentially Austria’s power supply.

The major part of the additionally needed power will be largely generated at the new gas and steam-generating power plants such as Mellach/Graz or Klagenfurt, which deliver electricity and district heating, and increasingly from imports.

VERBUND not only relies on the new construction of power plants, but also, where possible, on increased efficiency. In this respect, VERBUND’s practice-oriented research work is delivering significant impulses. Accordingly, the EU project EnviSnow (that includes the development of a prediction on the Pasterze glacier) serves the optimisation and applications planning of the power-plant park. At the Danube power plant Aschach, the four master machine sets are being renewed in order to be able to produce almost 3 percent more electricity annually. At the same time, models of new optimised blade profiles are to be tested.

Schröfelbauer: “If electricity consumption in Austria continues to grow at the same pace as it is doing now, it will redouble within a period of 30 years. It is therefore high time for a long-term energy policy, because electricity imports just won’t solve the problem permanently. We need as broad an energy mix as possible on the producer side as much as we need substantial energy savings on the consumer side.”