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Analysis: German electricity exports fall in 2018, first drop since 2011

London — German exports of electricity fell in 2018 for the first time in seven years, preliminary data analyzed by S&P Global Platts showed, with several factors crimping flows including reduced demand from Alpine countries offsetting sharply higher flows to the Netherlands.

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Net exports down 10% to 45.6 TWh, lowest since 2014

Netherlands biggest taker with growing share

Alpine surplus shrinks by 7 TWh, Nordic flows reverse

Net exports of 45.6 TWh last year were down 10% on 2017's 52.5 TWh, according to transmission systems operator data on physical cross-border flows until December 27 aggregated by Fraunhofer ISE. The data matched preliminary estimates by utility lobby group BDEW also based on physical rather than commercial flows.

German exports had been growing steadily since 2011 on the back of rising wind and solar production coupled with cheap coal-fired generation. The decline in 2018 is likely due to a number of factors, including strong Alpine hydro generation, reduced exports to Austria in Q4 and increased power flows from France due to improved nuclear and hydro availability as well as falling coal output in Germany itself.

German flows to the Netherlands increased 39% on the year in 2018 with an average 2.2 GW flowing across that border every hour. Dutch imports were boosted by the start of a fourth interconnector in Q3 2018 while Belgium's nuclear shortfall was a contributing factor.

So-called loop flows where electricity flows through neighboring grids due to inner-German bottlenecks remain an issue with especially the Belgian grid vulnerable this winter due to record-low nuclear availability.

Exports into Alpine countries declined over 7 TWh in 2018 with both Switzerland and Austria benefitting from higher hydro output especially in Q2.

Flows to Austria also fell after the introduction of capacity allocations on the previously unrestricted German border from October 1.

Unscheduled loop flows through Eastern European grids were a key reason for the Austrian-German price zone split with still 7 TWh flowing from Germany to Poland in 2018 despite very little commercial capacity being available.

Denmark turned from net exporter in 2017 to net importer from Germany in 2018 with the resulting 2.6 TWh swing mainly due to the hydro deficit in the Nordic region.

Cross-border flows of electricity are not just technically complex, but have also become a political issue over recent years amid major changes to national power systems.

Danish-German border capacity has become a focus with the European Commission requesting German TSO Tennet to offer at least 1.3 GW or 75% of the technical capacity on that border by mid-2019.

--Andreas Franke, andreas.franke@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Loades-Carter, newsdesk@spglobal.com