Working on the grid of the future

“We are talking about a change of pace. To all intents and purposes, we are developing the grid of the future now. Everyone in the organisation is on the starting line. The need has been recognised, we have the licences and we have the expertise."

"Now it’s time to get going", says President and CEO of Statnett Auke Lont in reply to the question about how Statnett is progressing with the development of the next generation main grid. However, Lont is prepared for challenges along the way. "For instance, our vision is to have zero health, safety and environment incidents. This means we have to put HSE at the top of our agenda, in the same way as we do at Group management meetings.” 

A can-do and will-do organisation

“How will you manage the major transition from operations to construction?”
“By having an organisation that is fit for fight. We have about 950 employees who come to work with a positive attitude and who think it is great to work towards this important target. We have hired 500 new employees in the last five years. We have a can-do and will-do organisation,” says Lont emphasising that the company is also dependent on external support.

“I believe we have come far and that the vision of the next generation main grid has left a real imprint. Wherever we go, in communication with the public and the media, I find that people agree that we need a more modern and stronger grid. The need has been accepted. That is almost our most important job; to gain acceptance for the fact that there is a real need. On our way, we also need acceptance from local authorities where any disruptions will take place. We are dependent on broad acceptance, and we are dependent on a supplier industry.”

“There is much to do, after a previous period at slow pace,” Lont continues. “However, I think we already have made good progress. We have started on a number of projects. We are building the Sima-Samnanger power line, the Skagerrak 4 interconnector between Norway and Denmark, the Ørskog-Sogndal (Fardal) interconnector and we are planning the Ofoten-Hammerfest power line. We are also facilitating the construction of wind turbine farms in Fosen.”

Facilitating an energy revolution

 “What type of society is Statnett preparing for?”
“We will help ensure that everyone in society has electricity at all times. We believe the future will be electric. If we believe the UN’s climate objective of reducing carbon emissions from 12 to two tonnes per person by 2050, electricity will be about the only possible source of energy. In Norway there is already a good supply of renewable energy, but we will also prepare for an increase in consumption. Together with Sweden we are focussing on renewable energy by introducing green certificates from the beginning of next year. If we look at Europe, you’ll see an energy revolution taking place. Germany has already more installed wind power capacity than coal, lignite and nuclear power, in addition to extensive solar energy projects.” 

“What do you think the future energy supply will be like?”
“I think that in 2050, 80 percent of the energy consumption will come from renewable sources, compared to 20 percent today. That means there won’t be much else we can use other than electricity. There will be wind power, solar power as well as gas power. I also think that nuclear power will make a comeback. Moreover, we will have changed our consumption. I think that the transport sector will be more or less electric. Our contribution is to make sure that we have a grid capable of dealing with two tonnes of carbon emissions per persons. That in itself is a major task.”

Security of supply is a priority

Auke Lont emphasises that the most important target is security of supply.
“It is essential that we have a society where electricity is available to everyone at all times. The fact that the issue of security of supply in Bergen remains unsolved means that this will take first priority. But to us climate, value creation and security of supply are like Siamese triplets. If we are going to use even more electricity than at present, we must be even more certain that electricity is available. Similarly, we need security of supply if we are going to use more electricity for value-creating industry, such as electrification of the shelf.”

 “What do you think about Norway as the green battery of Europe?”
“Our field is to construct grids. We already have ambitious plans to establish interconnectors to the UK and Germany. To become a green battery on a large scale we need more pump capacity, grids and cables. This might be possible in the next phase, but first Statnett needs to build the foundation, i.e. a national 420 kV grid with new interconnectors to Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Germany to be able to handle the need for security of supply and phasing in of new renewable power production.”

“If we calculate how much this will cost, also in terms of reservoir capacity, this is probably not the right way of doing it. Statnett is only a facilitator. However, it also seems as some sort of reality check has taken place in the power industry, and we are taking this into consideration.”

Extended Group management

“Statnett currently has four divisions and units: Grid Operations, Projects, Commercial and Strategy, as well as Public Affairs. Now Corporate Staff and the ICT division are also represented in the Group management. Why?”

 “It is a signal. We want streamlined staff functions. That we have brought the staffs, including finance and HR, under a common denominator, is an expression of our wish to streamline the organisation and make things simpler and faster. The ICT division with its 120 employees, one eighth of the company, plays a key role, and is now heavily involved in our strategic projects, such as the development of a new central operations system,” says Lont, adding that the organisational changes also ensure a dynamic organisation. “Traditionally, Statnett has not been a very dynamic organisation, and we still have some way to go.”

Next generation Statnett

“We use our new offices, in Trondheim in 2012 and in Oslo in 2013, as an image to explain that not only do we need a new main grid, but also a new Statnett organisation,” says Lont. He explains: “This is an organisation where we are pulling down some walls and establishing a new organisation and new ways of working. This has symbolic value, but it also makes us more efficient, through increased cooperation and better communication. The task to develop the next generation main grid is simply so big that we need to find new ways of working.”

“We will become even more of a project-oriented organisation. This entails that we will work in different ways. We must sit down together and make a landscape work. We must also introduce new ways of working. Let’s say that we managed to develop a new type of pylon, which was lighter than the ones we use today. This would probably mean we would save material costs and transport costs during installation, at the same time as it would benefit the environment and safety. We must be willing to think outside the box and challenge the concept of doing things “like we always have.”

Proud of the Dagmar response

“With the current systems there is hardly any room for errors. This requires confidence and experience from experienced people. You don’t have much time to think. The entire organisation did a fantastic job handling the Dagmar storm, maintaining the electricity supply” says Lont who is very much aware of the challenges of combining safe operation with future-oriented development projects.”

“We are about to embark on a major development project. This means we cannot keep doing things the same way as before. At the same time, it is important to take operations into consideration, also during the development and construction stage. We must keep the balance between development and operations and between renewal and experience. These considerations must come together in one company. ”

Will deliver electricity and projects

Historically, Statnett has had an investment level of about NOK 500 million. This will be increased to NOK 5-6 billion a year.

“We had a few wake-up calls in 2011. Resource limitations are greater than we thought, also in the supplier industry. There is a certain lag, which I encounter more often than I thought, both inside and outside the organisation. But now it is actually society that asks us to construct grids, not the other way round. This means that we have reached an important milestone. Our professional advice has been heard and understood.”

“The organisation is alpha and omega. We have adapted, we have recruited, we have restructured and we have clear objectives. Now we need to put some pressure on the organisation. We have to deliver electricity and projects at the same time, without injury to personnel or damage to the environment. That will be extremely important.”