What actually is the Federal Requirements Plan?

Our cardiovascular system, with its extensive network of blood vessels, keeps enough blood flowing through our whole body, right to the tips of our toes. Parts of the body which need a lot of blood get a lot of blood. If we make our body work hard, our heart rate rises. Read on to learn more about what this has to do with the Federal Requirements Plan!

Illustration shows renewable energies, a factory and a residential building seen through a magnifying glass© BMWi

This is what it's all about: five steps are needed for a grid expansion project. The Federal Requirements Plan is step number 3. It sets out the starting and finishing points of the powerlines needed, but contains no specific information about the transmission route between them.

The procedural steps in grid expansion planning – from the initial idea to the finished powerline – can be counted on one hand. What sounds like child's play is, in practice, a complex procedure in which members of the public can have a say at any time.

The first step is to forecast how the transmission grid will need to look in ten or fifteen years by developing 'scenario frameworks' (in German only) to predict the future. The aim is to be able to ensure a reliable supply of electricity whilst carbon emissions decline and the share of renewable energy rises. The scenario frameworks form the basis for the creation of a Network Development Plan (step 2). This Plan documents the areas where the four operators of the large transmission grid (50Hertz, Amprion, TenneT and TransnetBW) see a need for conversion, expansion and modernisation measures to ensure that the electricity supply will remain secure in the future. The Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency) examines this assessment made by the transmission system operators. In parallel to this, it produces an environmental report which looks into the impact of the grid expansion on people and the environment.

Important instrument for the expansion of the transmission grids

The Federal Requirements Plan is most important instrument for the expansion of our transmission grids. It is updated in step 3. Applied to the human cardiovascular system, it would mainly stipulate the beginning and end of the many blood vessels. To do this, it needs to see exactly how much blood needs to be transported from where to where, given that the needs can vary depending on how hard the body is working. Bottlenecks in the blood supply can be dangerous. And bottlenecks should also be avoided in the transmission system.

So the Federal Requirements Plan sets out the starting and finishing points of the lines needed, but contains no specific information about the transmission route between them. In the case of powerlines which run through several of Germany's states or into other European countries, the Federal Sectoral Planning (in German only) (step 4) sets out a route corridor for the powerline which is compatible with spatial planning and is environmentally acceptable. In the crucial final step, the plan approval decision (building approval) is made, setting out all the important details for the new line, and in particular the exact route it will take.

The first three steps – scenario framework, Network Development Plan, Federal Requirements Plan – are subject to an iterative process in order to adapt the requirements plan to changing circumstances. At least every four years, the Federal Network Agency transmits the confirmed Network Development Plan to the Federal Government as a draft for an update to the Federal Requirements Plan. The Federal Government presents the draft Federal Requirements Plan produced on this basis to the legislature. It did this most recently on 23 September 2020, when the Federal Cabinet adopted the draft legislation revising the Federal Requirements Plan Act.

65% target: more grid expansion for more renewable energy

For the first time, the Federal Requirements Plan contained in the draft legislation takes account of the increased expansion target for renewable energy of 65% of gross electricity consumption in 2030. This does of course also mean an increased need to expand the grid, because the roll-out of renewable energy and the expansion of the power grid need to be as synchronised as possible in order to avoid congestion. In particular, the electricity generated by wind turbines in the north of Germany has to be transported to the major power consumption regions in the west and south of the country. As a consequence, it has been necessary to update many parts of the list of 'urgently needed' grid expansion projects contained in the previous Federal Requirements Plan in order to respond to the increased use of renewables up to 2030. The draft 2021 Renewable Energy Sources Act was also adopted by the cabinet at the same time of the update to the Federal Requirements Plan. The revised version of the Renewable Energy Sources Act also aims to synchronise the roll-out of renewable energy with the expansion of the grid. (For more information (in German only), please click here.)

What the draft of the new Federal Requirements Plan says

According to the Federal Government's draft legislation, 35 new grid expansion projects are to be included in the Federal Requirements Plan, and eight existing projects altered. Most of the new projects entail the upgrading of existing powerlines. Also, the proposal aims to implement the grid problems in the area where Bavaria, Hesse and Thuringia meet, as agreed by Federal Minister Altmaier and the energy ministers of the three Länder in June 2019 (read more about this here in German only).

Planning and approval procedures can be made more efficient under the new Federal Requirements Plan Act, e.g. via the streamlining of hearings in the follow-up participation procedure. The next step is for the Act to be debated in the Bundestag and Bundesrat as part of the parliamentary procedure. It will probably be possible to complete the legislative process before the end of this year.