Mr. Götz, you are one of the leading German power grid managers. There has been resistance from the population when it comes to network expansion for years. Are you still interested in the energy transition? I will say it clearly: We at TransnetBW and I personally are fans of the energy transition. I fight for it out of conviction. But it is a generational project that will demand a lot from us. And we have to be careful not to lose the population on the way to our goal.

In some cases we are years behind in expanding the power lines. Can we still achieve the climate goals we have set ourselves of phasing out coal in 2030 and becoming CO2 neutral in 2045? We should not constantly try to outdo ourselves when it comes to predicting when the energy transition will be achieved. It’s not about a year more or less. We have to take it step by step and be careful not to stumble along the way. We’ve made good progress so far, even if we could be faster in many places.

How exactly do you think we are making good progress? For example, the CO2 balance for the past year is good, Germany saved 10.1 percent compared to the previous year…

…unfortunately largely because the economy and demand are stalling. Where could progress be more ambitious? I would like to see more pragmatism and speed of implementation in many respects. But given the scale of the task, I am still confident. In the last two years, politicians have introduced many legal measures that will simplify our path to the success of the energy transition. Some of this will certainly have an even greater impact.

Werner Götz is CEO of the transmission system operator TransnetBW. He wants to accelerate network expansion.

Confident? One of the crucial north-south electricity highways, “SuedLink,” should have been finished long ago. However, the groundbreaking only took place last summer. Isn’t that bleak? No, it’s certainly not bleak, but Suedlink is indeed an example of what can happen on the journey to climate neutrality in a large-scale project. The decision in 2015 by the then Bavarian Prime Minister Seehofer and the then Federal Minister of Economics Gabriel not to require overhead lines for direct current lines, but only underground cables, cost us two to three years of time. It must also be said that the acceptance advantages that politicians had hoped for from the change in technology did not materialize. I can understand that too, because the restructuring that we are currently striving for is quite remarkable in its dimensions and is leading to numerous personal concerns. You can’t just discuss them away, and you can’t get them fully resolved with maximum transparency at over 700 on-site information events. Nevertheless, it is important and right to continue the conversation. This is an important building block for us in implementing the network expansion projects.

To what extent are they additionally thwarted by the authorities? The responsibilities in Germany are very complex. When it comes to the energy transition, we are dealing with around 15,000 laws and regulations. When our colleagues drive to the Bonn approval authority, the Federal Network Agency, with a permit application, they do not come with three or four sheets of paper in their pockets, but rather they come by truck and unload pallets with application folders. However, we see relief here in the future through the new legal framework, which will significantly reduce the volume of documents.

What other options do we have to push the expansion much faster? After all, it means: There is no coal phase-out without network expansion. We have to go back to overhead lines for future power lines like NordWestLink and SuedWestLink. Ultimately, it is also about the affordability of the energy transition and thus its public acceptance. If we change the technology back to overhead lines, it will save around 1 to 1.5 billion euros in network fees in the future – every year. This would benefit all households in Germany because they all pay the network fees via their electricity price.

Wouldn’t even more time be lost if you rolled backwards? We’ve calculated that. We would lose a year in the planning due to the change in technology, but could gain two years in the construction phase, so that we could put NordWestLink and SuedWestLink into operation a year earlier.

And what happens with the ongoing, approved line projects? That leaves underground cables for direct current connections like SuedLink. We have had them approved, the cables have been ordered and have been delivered to our interim storage facilities for over a year. Civil engineering is currently being successively commissioned for the construction phases. There is no longer any discussion. Our focus now is on building on time and, for example, putting SuedLink into operation in 2028. However, politicians are now required to make overhead lines possible for the new line projects. As I said, it’s a lot of money and it’s about the acceptance of the energy transition in society.

What are the chances that your proposal will be implemented in the Bundestag? I think fifty-fifty. I am currently having a lot of discussions and there are MPs in all democratic groups who are taking a positive stance on this. Incidentally, we are also pulling together with our project partners 50Hertz and TenneT: For SuedWestLink, NordWestLink and OstWestLink, we are jointly calling for a move away from underground cable priority.

In 2015, the CSU prevailed when it came to underground cables. Have you already spoken to Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder about whether he would accept overhead lines again? I also sense a clear rethinking in Bavaria. 2015 cannot be compared to 2024; the energy transition was not yet visible back then. Other reasons for this are probably the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine and the new awareness of the dependence on fossil natural gas. With the awareness that Bavaria quickly needs a significantly higher connection to the energy sources in the north, there is also growing approval for network expansion – and hopefully also for a cheaper and faster overhead line solution.

How quickly would Berlin have to allow the overhead line again? Better today than tomorrow. This decision must be made at the beginning of the next quarter at the latest.

What is your forecast: Will we ultimately have a German power grid that is strong enough to supply all electric cars and heat pumps? A resounding yes! We at TransnetBW, together with our partners, will ensure that renewable energies reach where they are needed.