June 12, 2013 / 5:56 PM / 6 years ago

Amprion plans Germany's first direct current power line by 2019

* Amprion to apply for power line Ultranet this year

* To bring power southern Germany with 1 bln euro project

* This would pioneer overlay grid technology in Europe

By Vera Eckert

BERLIN, June 12 (Reuters) - Network operator Amprion aims to seek planning permission this year for Germany’s first direct current power line, which could carry electricity long distances without losing much of it, and begin using the link by 2019, a board member said.

The project, named Ultranet, will initially transport power from the western German industrial heartland to the country’s southwest, helping to meet a need created by Germany’s policy of phasing out nuclear power stations by 2022.

“Once nuclear power is switched off, lines like Ultranet will be important pillars of future energy supply security,” the board member, Hans-Juergen Brick, said.

“The main driver is a replacement for dwindling nuclear capacity in the south,” he added, speaking on the sidelines of a conference.

Ultranet, being developed with its Amprion’s partner Transnet BW, would cost around 1 billion euros ($1.33 billion) of which Amprion would provide 600 million euros, Brick said.

Direct current technology has so far been used most successfully in China, as it typically allows transport over distances of more than 500 km with little loss of power.

This has not been necessary in Europe which has local power plants and has been able to use alternating current lines.

A further innovation is that Amprion has been experimenting on the site of utility E.ON’s Datteln power station, aiming to prove the direct current line can be placed on top of existing pylons and cables carrying alternating current.

The technology is called an overlay network and engineering firms like ABB, Siemens and Alstom are among those developing it.

If Ultranet works, it could make the case for more such lines that would complement existing infrastructure - a big advantage in a densely populated country where many citizens view new infrastructure with suspicion.

Grid firms recover their investments via network usage fees from consumers.

The 340-km project, the first of four planned high-voltage power lines running from north to south, would come on stream before southwestern utility EnBW has to shut its Philippsburg 2 reactor near Karlsruhe in 2019.

It will run from Osterrath near Duesseldorf to Philippsburg.

Without Philippsburg, Baden Wuerttemberg, with big industrial players such as Daimler, Bosch and SAP will need to import more power or be unable to guarantee round-the-clock supply from local renewable sources.

In a later step, Amprion may by 2022 build a line from the Duesseldorf region to the North Sea coast along with its peer Tennet, to allow offshore wind power to be brought south, Brick said.

Germany’s upper house of parliament last Friday approved a national grid development plan to aid the planned energy shift that is focused on low carbon generation. The shift includes plans for 10 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2020.

Amprion formerly belonged to utility RWE but was sold to financial investors such as Swiss Life and doctors’ pension funds in several German states.

Transnet BW is a subsidiary of EnBW while TenneT is the company that bought the Germany’s strategically crucial north-south grid formerly owned by E.ON in 2009.

$1 = 0.7498 euros Reporting by Vera Eckert; Editing by Anthony Barker

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