He is flexible and fascinated by energy transmission. Markus Schafitel (28) works as an International Trainee for TenneT and is working on his last assignment at System Operations Germany. ‘It’s the perfect way to get to know the company really well. And besides that, TenneT has the most interesting grid!’
At the moment Markus is in Dachau and has just started on his last assignment for the System Operations department, in the team of Regional Planning and Regional Coordination. ‘In Germany we have two control centres: one in the north, close to Hannover, and one in the south in Dachau. They’re separated due to the history of our Transmission Grid but in emergency cases the whole grid can be controlled by either control centres’, Markus explains.
His task will be to calculate the power flows between 1 and up to 7 days in advance, so they can keep the grid congestion free and keep the balance between consumption and production. This is challenging because there are many external influences. ‘We have to give every market participant discrimination-free access to our grid, but in Germany the renewable energies are always allowed to in-feed energy to the grid. We’re only allowed to decrease the production of renewable energies as a last resort, to prevent the grid from congestions or outages. Before that, we use topological actions followed by re-dispatch of conventional power plants. Our task at System Control Germany is to keep the balance in equilibrium between production and consumption together with voltage and frequency. 24/7, 365 days. Always.’
"These big towers always surrounded me and I always wanted to know: how do they operate?"Markus Schafitel
Little boy between high towers
Markus grew up next to a substation and became fascinated by the station and the big transmission line towers. ‘These big towers always surrounded me and I always wanted to know: how do they operate? If I came closer I could always hear the sparkling in the air, which I later learned are due to corona discharges.’
The power electronic field seized Markus. Before finishing high school, he followed an apprenticeship in mechatronics, a combination of electrical and mechanical work. He studied Electrical Engineering at the Munich University of Applied Science (Bachelor of Engineering) and Sustainable Energy Supply at RWTH Aachen (Master of Science).
One week after finishing his master thesis, he moved from Aachen to Bayreuth to start the trainee programme. ‘I’ve always preferred to work for a TSO but I believed I wasn’t good enough for the trainee programme. In the end, I turned out to be a perfect fit!’ Markus is convinced that if you want to work somewhere you really love, you should be flexible and assertive.
Validating and calculating
Together with his mentor he planned his assignments at four different departments. He began at his mentor’s department: Asset Management Grid Development in Bayreuth. He simply joined the daily work process and together with colleagues he explored the possibilities of developing the grid for future flows and to find solutions for future possible grid congestions due to the German “Energiewende”.
After 6 months he switched to the same department but located in Arnhem. ‘I’m the first trainee that followed a whole assignment abroad’, Markus says proudly. In Arnhem, he continued the work of other trainees, mainly focusing on validating the existing grid model and performing calculations about the future need of reactive power in the Dutch grid.
He experienced small differences between Dutch and German employees. ‘In general, we all try to get our work done, but the way we get it done is a bit different. In Germany, we have a meeting, decide how to do it, start working on it and finish it. Dutch colleagues have a meeting, drink coffee, get new ideas and perhaps they begin again whilst the German colleague thinks the work is already done. But the biggest difference is lunch. In Germany we get a 3-course lunch whereas in the Netherlands there’s soup and ‘boterham’. But to be honest, I prefer the Dutch way.’
In general, Markus enjoyed his work and leisure time in the Netherlands. ‘Living and working abroad was a great opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and to grow. And I think we should see the cultural differences as a chance to improve our way of working instead of complaining. It’s way more interesting to find our similarities.’
Building and operating a grid
After two assignments that were focused on future possibilities and planning, it was time to explore how to built a grid. Therefore, Markus first moved for 8 weeks to Bamberg – famous for its beers – to support the project team in planning for the arrival of a static compensator. The other 4 months of the assignment were fulfilled in Lehrte in the field of transmission lines. Markus had to make a checklist for the construction controller of the service groups on the site. ‘The big towers have a foundation of about 30 meters into the ground. But how can the controller check something that is in the ground?
‘I made a new checklist with hard facts that have to be checked and are possible to check on site. To do so, I was often at the site and not behind my desk. But in the end, I prefer the more theoretical work. This was more practical, more about managing and organising things. And it wasn’t about electronics but about steel and concrete. It was an interesting assignment but I still like the field of power electronics the best.’
The System Operations department in Dachau feels as the right place for Markus. ‘In this work everything comes together for me. I can work in the extremely interesting field of planning safe and congestion free grid operation. 24/7. Besides that, this area is the place where I grew up. It’s the place where I stood as a little boy in front of 60-meter high towers. Towers that can be seen everywhere.’
It’s the place where he can settle down after he finishes his trainee programme because there is a job opening within the team where he’s doing his last assignment. To prepare himself he’s doing a lot of reading at work as well as in his spare time. In the future he wants to have more time to bike and visit concerts. But right now, he’s focused on his job: a job in the field that interests him the most. ‘I always wanted to work on something which can be seen and is important for everyone. I believe supplying energy for a big part of Germany is quite important.’