Germany’s top civil protection officer publicly warns of “blackouts”, his authority whistles him back. The incident worried the already unsettled citizens. Crisis researcher Frank Roselieb explains how likely longer power outages really are.

In view of the horrendous energy prices and impending bottlenecks in the gas and electricity supply this winter, many people in Germany are unsettled. Quite a few are afraid of large-scale collapses in the energy supply, so-called “blackouts”.

Exactly in this highly sensitive phase, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) dropped a bomb a few days ago. Actually intended as a calming pill, a statement by the authority subordinate to the Federal Ministry of the Interior further fueled the general uncertainty.

What happened?

BBK boss Ralph Tiesler warned in the “Welt am Sonntag”: “We have to assume that there will be blackouts in winter.” Shortly thereafter, the federal authority called back its own boss and corrected his statement. A large-scale power failure in winter is “extremely unlikely”. Tiesler’s statement referred to a “regional and temporary interruption in the power supply,” it said.

Even if the correction in the matter was correct and the clarification may have been appropriate – the process has a bitter aftertaste. Because it does not contribute to strengthening people’s trust in civil protection. On the contrary.

Many people got the impression that experts within the competent federal authority would publicly contradict each other. A battle of different positions? Or “just” a communication disaster? Both would be fatal.

The well-known crisis researcher Frank Roselieb (Kiel) sees it that way. He told FOCUS online: “Unfortunately, the ‘clarification’ of the BBK coincides with the fatal picture that the current federal government’s crisis policy has been generating for some time.”

Especially in times of crisis, people were looking for orientation and reliability. “The federal eagle and the black, red and gold flag in the logo make the BBK particularly credible from this perspective”. Against this background, “the Office’s call for order to its own President came at an inopportune time,” said Roselieb.

Several times recently, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance had not given a really good and competent picture. Just think of the failed warning day in September 2020 and the non-functioning Nina-Warn-App during the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley in 2021. The BBK was in the process of improving its battered image. The “blackout” incident throws the office back again.

In an interview with FOCUS online, crisis manager Frank Roselieb reminds that BBK boss Ralph Tiesler knows exactly what he is talking about. “It wasn’t some cheeky 22-year-old disaster intern who spoke here, but a 62-year-old, extremely experienced civil protection officer with three decades of professional experience.”

Tiesler knows civil protection in Germany better than anyone else, says Roselieb. “He was with the Technical Relief Organization for many years. Almost two decades ago he started at the BBK and has experienced the whole spectrum of crises – from the ‘blackout’ in Münsterland to the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

Frank Roselieb admits that some of Tiesler’s formulations in the interview could have been “misleading”. In essence, however, the statements by the BBK President corresponded to the results of a special analysis of the four transmission system operators from September 2022.

Literally it says there: “In all three scenarios considered, the supply situation in the coming winter half-year is extremely tense – in Europe, the load cannot be fully covered in the electricity market.” And further: “In the two more critical scenarios, load shortages will also occur in a few hours Germany up.”

Roselieb to FOCUS online: “That was exactly Ralph Tiesler’s core statement.” power supply is interrupted for a period of time.”

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Roselieb also does not rule out that there could be regional power cuts in the winter months – and criticizes the crisis policy of the current federal government. “There you break with the proven principles of good crisis prevention such as redundancy, resilience and robustness.” Instead, an attempt is made to “trick the laws of physics”.

Crisis research is always looking for “guaranteed performance,” explains Roselieb. “This reliability can definitely also be provided by regenerative energies such as hydropower, but above all gas, coal, oil and nuclear power. Here you can procure coal and fuel rods ahead of time and stockpile them,” says Roselieb.

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“That doesn’t work with solar and wind energy. It is and remains a random energy. The guaranteed power is therefore equal to zero. Anyone who relies on this alone in the medium term multiplies or adds zero by zero – and gets nothing in the event of a ‘dark calm’,” warns the crisis researcher.

“According to the laws of physics, sufficient storage capacities for the entire Federal Republic are not even remotely feasible in the next few years. This is especially true with a massive expansion of e-mobility. The only thing that helps here is a redundant mix of different energy sources,” says the expert.

Three physics professors at Heidelberg University came to the same conclusion. In 2021, they analyzed that in the foreseeable future it would be difficult to imagine that our current energy requirements could be covered by renewable energies. Due to the unavoidable dark doldrums, a corresponding number of fossil power plants would have to be kept available for all wind and solar power plants “as long as there are still no sufficient electricity storage facilities”.

When asked how high the probability of large-scale “blackouts” was in Germany, Roselieb answered: “We distinguish between three types of power failures”:

All in all, the crisis researcher does not see blackness when it comes to the question of “blackouts” in Germany. There would be very good conditions for surviving even long-lasting power failures.

This is due to two mechanisms. On the one hand, “a well-functioning market economy with creative companies that quickly search for innovative solutions in times of crisis”. On the other hand, “a solid democracy that can’t be thrown off track so easily, even by extremists”.

Germany’s gas storage facilities are full to the brim, we use much less natural gas than in previous years and the weather so far has been mild for the time of year. It is possible that the entire winter will be warmer than expected. That would bring us benefits worth billions.

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According to an estimate by energy experts, energy consumption in Germany will fall by 2.7 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year. The reason is the drastically increased prices and the mild temperatures. The primary energy consumption of lignite, on the other hand, increased.

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