Backcasting = ‘shaping a vision for the future and using this to determine how to realise this future. Look at possibilities and actions that can realise that vision.’
Immediate future-proof investing
The rapid pace of electrification demands a more future-proof approach when deciding on grid expansions and investments. The Target Grid Map shows our planned expansions and the need for more capacity in the future. By taking this into account in the early building stages, it becomes easier to expand in later phases. Working in this way is faster, saves costs and is better technically. In short, this is future-proof investing. As of 2023, the knowledge and insights of the Target Grid, will be included in our investment plan, which we use to determine our investments each year.
Up until now, we have looked ten years ahead when planning investments in high-voltage grids. That approach was suited to times of gradual growth, where grid investments, design and realisation followed more predictable trends and developments. However, the energy transition is now accelerating dramatically, demanding a different approach to planning that anticipates changing needs and targets.
Climate goals are tightening, carbon emission prices are rising. And due to geopolitical uncertainty in Europe, the prices of natural gas and other fuels are also rising. These factors are resulting in rapid electrification by households, businesses and industry. It is very difficult for grid operators to provide the infrastructure needed to support this change quickly and flexibly. Planning and permitting procedures for constructing a high-voltage grid have very long lead times.
When we are clear about the end goal, we can start preparing for grid expansions earlier. This approach has significant advantages, particularly in saving time with lengthy processes, including determining high-voltage cable routes, gaining construction permits and purchasing land. Starting spatial planning processes early reduces lead times by 50%. That’s a huge gain. Even if plans are adjusted after 15 years, or if prepared plans are cancelled, the time savings contribute to an overall acceleration of building activity.
Capacity better matches developments
Backcasting helps us to match grid capacity to current and future developments over the years. Grid expansions that have been prepared can be accelerated or delayed more easily. This helps to prevent grid congestion, as being flexible means we can offer more capacity to suit changes in electricity generation and use. The electricity grid plays a crucial role in designing and realising a sustainable energy system.
More time, better quality
Planning far ahead and starting preparations early allows for more time to design the approach efficiently. On a technical level, we can account for planned capacity increases in the future. Choosing the best solution for the long term avoids duplication of work and materials. We can also integrate our planning with other infrastructure needed in society, such as a new road, bridge or wind farm. This is a huge gain for people and the environment, and lowers the cost of the energy system.
Predictability is important in the energy transition. If TenneT – using our Target Grid strategy with backcasting – can indicate how grid capacity will increase in the longer term, other sectors can take this into account in their investments. Mobility, transport, living and working, electricity production, infrastructure, industrial processes: all of these are sectors are becoming more sustainable. They are also interdependent. A large increase in offshore wind only makes sense if it is matched by enough bulk demand. A residential area that relies on electricity for heating over natural gas is only sustainable if the houses are well insulated. It only makes sense to install more charging stations if more electric cars are sold. For citizens, industries and governments, understanding these interdependencies is crucial in the puzzle of the energy transition.