2nd BESTGRID workshop on "Innovation through Collaboration" hosted by 50Hertz

Umweltforum, Pufendorfstr. 11, 10249 Berlin

How can we agree on the dimensions of the future electricity grid? Where do we want to build new power lines? How can we assure that local impacts and concerns are fully understood and – if necessary - compensated in the best possible way? All these questions cannot be answered by one single actor. On the contrary, we need procedures, formats and tools that allow for closer collaboration and joint solutions of different groups of society.

Within the framework of the EU-funded project BESTGRID, grid operators and environmental groups work together in pilot projects on the ground. Collaboration takes place on a variety of topics, from the right approach towards stakeholder engagement, to nature conservation, or public information campaigns. What are the experiences gained? Which further areas of collaboration are of importance to build a grid that is suitable for a renewables-based future? And how should collaboration with other stakeholders be structured to make it successful?

The 2nd BESTGRID workshop was held on 23 October 2014 at Umweltforum in Berlin and investigated how to design better projects by actively collaborating. We shared some of the lessons learned from almost 20 months of collaboration and at the same time looked for lively discussions based on your experiences and insights beyond the realms of the project.  

The workshop was hosted by 50Hertz as part of “BESTGRID – Testing better practices”, a project financed by the European Commission (see www.bestgrid.eu).

A few impressions of the 2nd BESTGRID workshop:


A summary of the workshop is available here.


09:00 Registration, tea & coffee

09:30 Welcome by Olivier Feix, 50Hertz and Antonella Battaglini, RGI;
                BESTGRID  - the project in a nutshell, Theresa Schneider (RGI) | Presentation

10:00 Collaboration on an emotionally sensitive topic: 50Hertz’s pilot project activities on electro- and magnetic fields
Dr. Dirk Manthey, 50Hertz | Presentation

10:45 Collaboration on nature conservation: BirdLife’s collaboration projects (1)
Eric Neuling, Nabu Bundesverband (German BirdLife) on their role in the 50Hertz project | Presentation

11:00 Coffee break

11:30 Collaboration on nature conservation: BirdLife’s collaboration projects (2)
Ivan Scrase, RSPB (British BirdLife) | Presentation

12:00 Collaboration on the marine environment: National Grid’s pilot project on stakeholder engagement in offshore interconnectors 
Phil Pryor, National Grid | Presentation

12:30 Networking lunch

13:15 World café format with 4 different topics: 

Table 1
The European grid: how to increase collaboration to identify PCIs
Impulse speaker: Olgerts Viksne, European Commission, DG Energy (Internal Market: Networks & Regional Initiatives)
Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) are the main European tool to promote the development of grid infrastructure for an integrated European electricity market. The PCI selection procedure intends to allow for substantial input from external stakeholders. However, there is still a discrepancy between the general agreement that such involvement is necessary and the concrete underlying procedural steps. The European Commission has recently confirmed that EC Regional Groups, which are a neuralgic point in the selection process shall be opened to NGO participation – however, it still needs to be defined what the concrete purpose of engagement will be, how outcomes can be integrated into the further selection process or how NGOs - generally operating either at a national or European, but not on a regional level - can build the needed capacity to provide substantial input at a regional level. 

Table 2
Innovative collaboration formats: from participation to collaboration
Impulse speaker: Dr. Andreas Brandtner, VDI (The Association of German Engineers) 
Major steps have been taken in recent years to make grid planning procedures more transparent, open and participatory. Legislators have introduced more formal consultations, TSOs have re-organised their communication in order to inform the public at a very early point in time about their planning stages and receive feedback and other organisations, such as the Association of German Engineers, have produced guidelines on good participation. However, while these new information and participation measures allow members of the public to contribute their ideas and expertise, they do not give them the opportunity to actively co-design and thus consider the final result as their own. Are there any experiences in other sectors that could be applied in grid development projects? What are the preconditions concerning procedures, technical design and resources? 

Table 3
The initial steps of good collaboration: How does it work on the ground?
Impulse speaker: Mátyás Prommer, MME (Hungarian BirdLife) 
There are many collaboration initiatives between grid operators and environmental groups on national and regional level. Such collaboration does not come naturally – usually, an extended period of getting to know each other, of trust-building and of sorting out terms of collaboration is needed before an actual collaboration gets started. Furthermore, these initiatives tend to start with concrete nature conservation activities on existing power lines, e.g. bird protection measures such as the instalment of breeding nests in pylons or “bird flaps” on overhead lines, but still shy away from jointly developing new projects. In line with these observations, the table shall discuss questions such as: What are key factors to initiate a successful collaboration and what are potential challenges on the way? How can collaboration on existing lines be transferred into a continuous exchange on grid development projects? What are the most important steps to consider? Which challenges should be addressed? 

Table 4
Joint development of community compensation measures
Impulse speaker: Kai Gildhorn, Mundraub (organization that implements biodiversity project as compensation measure of 50Hertz)
There are different compensation schemes in place in every European country. During the discussions at the first BESTGRID workshop in Hamburg, doubts were raised about their effectiveness and needs to change existing practices. However, it is clear that a thorough exchange about the use of compensation with an affected community can provide very tangible benefits for such a community, which contributes to better relationships and intensified collaboration. At the same time, under certain circumstances, communities choose not to enter into such an exchange as they hope that through a consistent “opposition” they are able to entirely avoid the realisation of a project. Ultimately, these communities may then find themselves in a situation where the project is being built and they have not influenced in their interest the usage of compensation measures. What are hence the preconditions for a beneficial collaboration to take place? Who should participate in these discussions? Are there any experiences on compensation measures that could serve as good example for others? 

15:15 Tea & coffee

15:45 Report of discussion session

16:00 Fishbowl discussionSocial responsibility in grid development discussions

The transformation of the European energy system towards more renewables is ongoing. This transformation is one of the drivers for the need to modernise and strengthen the European electricity grid. As a consequence, many people are or will be affected by new power lines. While experts and many representatives of important civil society groups largely agree on the need for an improved infrastructure, the need question continues to be highly debated by those directly affected by a line at the local level. Loud, opposing voices that raise their doubts against the need of such projects are easily picked-up and amplified, e.g. via politicians or the media. Meanwhile, polls prove that a transition to renewables and related to this grid infrastructure continuously receive the support of the majority – however, a mostly pretty silent majority. The question to be discussed during the panel is: 
Could we reach a broader societal consensus for grid infrastructure by involving more representatives of different societal groups – and if yes, how? Is a broader and louder expert support necessary to disperse doubts about the need for new lines? Would a totally new approach of informing the public make a difference? 

17:00 End of workshop