How E.ON adapts the energy grids to make the energy transition a reality?

Published on 04 May 2022
Ligne à haute tension Thomas König, E.ON SE
Thomas König Chief Operating Officer – Networks at E.ON SE

The E.ON Group is one of Europe's largest operators of energy networks and infrastructure and a provider of customer solutions for 50 million customers. How is E.ON supporting the energy transition in Germany?

E.ON’s Energy Networks are the backbone for Europe’s green energy transition. With our energy networks, we are integrating renewables to the energy system and enabling customers to participate in the energy transition. With every new connection of a renewable energy plant or a new climate friendly customer solution, we get closer to the Paris Climate Agreement goals. E.ON has expanded its networks for the energy world of the future and has already connected nearly one million renewable energy plants in Europe. And that number is increasing day by day. In Germany, more than half of the installed renewable capacity is connected to the E.ON grid. In many regions, the share of renewable energy already exceeds the regional load.

Our customer solutions are tailored to the individual needs of our household and industrial customers which enable them to reduce their CO2 footprint. In particular, energy-intensive industries, such as chemicals or steel production have to reduce their CO2 emissions significantly. Together with our partners, we are demonstrating in Salzgitter that decarbonization of the steel industry is possible. The project is the first in Germany to use green hydrogen generated from wind power, and then significantly scaling this, into the ongoing operation of a steel mill. 

We have set three clear priorities on which we will focus our human and financial resources in the coming years: Sustainability, Digitalization and Growth. We will invest approximately €27 billion up to 2026. €22 billion of these investments will go towards expanding our energy networks and €5 billion toward our customer solutions business.

E.ON intends to invest €27 billion in the energy transition in the coming years. A large part of this investment will be dedicated to the expansion of the energy networks. Why are distribution grids so important for the energy transition?

More than 95% of renewable energy plants in Europe are directly connected to the distribution grids. We expect that by 2030 half of the entire generation capacity will feed directly into the grids of the distribution system operators. Today, E.ON has connected more than 20% of the capacity of renewable assets in Europe and will connect more than 40 GW of new renewables in the next 5 years. Furthermore, the rapidly growing number of new customer applications such as e-mobility, electric heat pumps and decentralized storage systems will be integrated primarily in the distribution grids. These technologies are essential for an efficient reduction of CO2 emissions.

We are also connecting large industrial customers in key technologies such as electromobility, battery production and data centres to our grids. For example, together with our partners Mainova and Tennet, we are investing €750 million in the area of Frankfurt to make the power grid ready for the growing energy demands in this metropolitan region. The increasing demand for energy is due to the growth of the economic region and digitization. By 2027, the capacities on site will increase by a further 50 percent. This corresponds to an additional capacity of over 500 MW. The size of such projects can be compared with the connected load of a large city. 

What about digitalisation, in particular smart grids? Is it key level to better manage intermittent renewable energy?

The fast-increasing number of network participants is driving up the complexity of the future energy world. This is only possible through digitization which will enable us to integrate millions of new participants and to keep the energy system manageable. With digitization, we are managing the increasing complexity, optimizing the utilization of our networks, and increasing efficiency – all for the benefit of our customers and the environment. Digitization also helps us to master the demographic change and the resulting shortage of skilled workers.

We aim to fully digitize core business processes across regions which will enable us to monitor and control our distribution grids across all voltage levels. Sensors as well as intelligent metering and control technology will facilitate real-time control of distributed generation and consumption. Based on one global uniform digital platform we will fully leverage data collected throughout our network operations. We are investing more than 400 million euros per year digitalising our energy networks. 

What are your expectations from SPIE today?

SPIE is already one of E.ON’s most important partners for the development of our energy networks. Besides Germany, we’re also working together in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech. SPIE is, for example, realizing new electricity and gas connections, including overhead lines in the 110 kV area. There are various initiatives to support our smartification strategy such as the roll-out of intelligent secondary substations to increase our levels of performance monitoring of the grid. We understand that E.ON’s three priorities “Sustainability, Digitalization and Growth” fit very well to SPIE’s own agenda too. Our expectation is that SPIE continues to be a reliable partner for our grid development and contributes as a partner to our new and ambitious targets. We can only realize the energy transition if we work very closely together. To be more precise: We need capacities – skilled and commercially competitive capacities that can work with us hand-in-hand to develop new smart solutions for the energy networks of the future.

What is your vision of the sector's challenges for the coming years?

The war in the Ukraine has led to further pressure on our energy eco-system. The security of supply and affordability of energy will be of utmost importance.  We expect that our Supply Chains will be disrupted, affecting availability and leading to higher prices of materials and products required for the extension and operation of the grid. Personally, I don’t think we’ve seen the full consequences of the situation yet. However, I am convinced that the rationale behind the energy transition is more relevant than ever before and that its urgency has increased further. Therefore, speed is crucial: We must become even faster on our joint projects as well as the planning and approval procedures for gird expansion by the respective governmental and regulatory bodies must be significantly simplified and accelerated.

One specific challenge for both of us is –the demographic change in Europe’s population which is making it more and more difficult to find the right people. E.ON and SPIE already have various ongoing initiatives to address this challenge together. Good examples are joint efforts on training as well as specialized courses for working certificates and qualifications. 

Sustainability and digitalization will be the dominant cornerstones not only for us, but also for our sector. Despite all the challenges, we have great growth opportunities together as SPIE and E.ON. That’s why I am very positive about the future and look forward to continuing to work closely with SPIE.