Peter Altmaier burned his fingers on the subject at the time: It was early 2021 when the newspapers wrote that the CDU politician, who was still Federal Minister of Economics at the time, wanted to switch off commuters’ electricity remotely if they recharge their electric cars at home after work want. The Saarlander wanted to prevent the power grid from being overloaded when everyone grabs the charging cable at seven in the evening.
The outcry of the indignant was great, the car industry railed against state-imposed power cuts for electric vehicles – and Altmaier immediately put the reverse gear: The plan had been published without his approval, according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs. That didn’t sound very believable.
Altmaier was off the hook for now. The problem of an imminent overload of the power grid has not only remained, it has become even more urgent since 2021. According to estimates, the mark of one million purely electrically powered cars was broken at the turn of the year, more than three times as many as two years ago. Sales of electric heat pumps, on the other hand, rose by more than 40 percent in the first three quarters of 2022. And all over the country installers are screwing new photovoltaic systems onto the roofs.
The energy industry warns that the politically desired and forced boom in e-cars, heat pumps and solar modules is pushing the local power grids in towns and villages to their limits. “The applications for the connection of new systems are going through the roof, and we assume that the growth rates will continue to grow,” says Thomas König, CEO of the Düsseldorf energy group Eon.
His company operates a power grid in Germany that is almost 700,000 kilometers long, which corresponds to almost one time the distance to the moon and back. Eon supplies twelve million end customers in Germany with electricity, making the group by far the number one in electricity sales. König has been in the business for almost three decades and has never experienced such crazy growth as it is now.
Waiting times of up to eight months for connection to the grid
The volume of newly installed small photovoltaic systems that Eon is supposed to connect to its grid has grown by three quarters in the past two years, and the increase in commercial wind and solar parks is even greater. In addition, there were around 100,000 new charging stations for electric cars at Eon alone in 2021. Customers sometimes have to put up with long waiting times until their new systems are connected. “It can be eight weeks, if you’re unlucky eight months,” admits König.
The local power grids are threatening to become the bottleneck for the energy transition, says Krzysztof Rudion, Professor of Energy Transmission at the Technical University of Stuttgart: “The expansion of the distribution grid is simply not keeping pace with the boom in heat pumps, electric cars and solar systems.” The consequences can be serious . Local power outages, which have so far been very rare in Germany, could be much more frequent in just a few years. “Then the fuse blows in the transformer station and the electricity is gone in the affected street,” says Rudion.