In mid-August, the head of the Federal Network Agency warned of a lack of gas in winter. Saving electricity and gas should remedy the situation. In January 2021, however, Europe was faced with an acute shortage. Are we facing something similar in a few months?
Will there already be an acute gas shortage this winter? Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Network Agency, fears that. In the ZDF program “Maybrit Illner” in mid-August, he warned that there could be local shortages in the gas supply in winter. The pressure on our energy supply is growing.
The Association of Bavarian Energy and Water Industries (VBEW) warned in July that the impending gas shortage and a shutdown of the remaining nuclear power plants in winter could mean that more people use electric heaters and therefore more electricity is needed. In Bavaria and other federal states, this could in turn lead to an acute supply shortage. The impending deficit would have to be offset with electricity from abroad. For example, Bavaria’s Economics Minister Hubert Aiwanger (free voters) hopes to compensate for the shortage in winter through imports from France, Austria and the Czech Republic.
But the supply situation is by no means secure. As the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reports, power outages are increasing in Europe:
In concrete terms, blackout means that the electricity in cities or regions fails for several hours or days and results in a failure of the infrastructure. This can happen, for example, if the power supply is interrupted unexpectedly due to extreme weather conditions or construction work. Overloads can also lead to a blackout.
Such a scenario was already threatening in January 2021, explained the President of the Austrian Society for Crisis Prevention, Herbert Saurugg, to FOCUS Online. At that time, Germany, France and Spain had to buy electricity in south-eastern Europe, mainly from Bulgaria and Romania, due to an acute deficit.
Although the lines on the European national borders only have a certain nominal capacity, almost 6.3 gigawatts ran to Enrestinovo that day. This roughly corresponds to the output of five medium-sized nuclear power plants.
The first thing that happened there was an acute overload and a safety shutdown. The power should then jump over to other substations in the area, which then also switched off due to overloading, according to Saurugg. On the one hand, worse things could be prevented by luck, on the other hand, because the safety mechanisms such as pumped storage power plants took effect.
A spokesman for the Federal Network Agency, on the other hand, wrote when asked that the disruption in Ernestinovo was primarily related to a chain reaction from premature protective mechanisms: “Due to the high line utilization, the protective mechanism of the busbar coupling was triggered before the danger could be detected. The triggering of the protective mechanism in turn led to a chain reaction, which led to the system being separated.” A drop in performance was noticeable in Italy and France, but not in Germany.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) also says that a collapse is unlikely: “The interconnectors between the state borders ensure the supply and have a certain nominal capacity. However, this is never fully exploited,” says the BMWK.
Saurugg sees it differently. Cases like Ernestinovo could be provoked more frequently in the future because electricity traders are making more use of the European grid infrastructure and sending more and more electricity back and forth. “I expect that such major disruptions will definitely increase,” says the blackout and crisis prevention expert.
Should there still be an overload somewhere in the European interconnected system, another disconnection of the network would probably be manageable. It becomes critical when large areas of equipment such as power plants have to be switched off to protect themselves and there is a large-scale power failure. The large area is decisive: the larger the area of the power blackout, the more severe the damage to the infrastructure and the supply chains. The recovery then takes correspondingly longer. A large-scale blackout would potentially have these consequences:
Saurugg predicts “massive bottlenecks” in the coming winter due to the lack of gas, drought and the ever-decreasing power plant reserve capacity, also because electricity consumption will increase massively at the same time – for example, if many people who actually have gas heaters buy electric heaters. That would be before This is particularly problematic when consumption increases in a region and at the same time there is little electricity generation capacity, as more energy is then required to cover it.
“If you say you have to compensate for that, you have to do it through electricity rationing, i.e. switching off larger regions for a few hours,” says Saurugg. Such regional shutdowns are primarily a safety measure, because otherwise there is an increased risk that an additional disruption will lead to a large-scale failure. They are therefore primarily there to stabilize the overall system.
An example of this is the planned blackout in Tokyo in the summer of 2011. In some parts of the city, electricity was cut off because there was an acute deficit due to the shutdown of the nuclear power plants after the nuclear accident in Fukushima. Saurugg also considers a similar scenario to be plausible in Germany: “I assume that we will see larger regional shutdowns in Europe next winter,” says the expert.
“The problem for us is that the security of supply is so high that we don’t have any practice. We don’t have the skills to deal with it. Very few people can take care of themselves. In countries like Japan, on the other hand, it’s different, because they’re used to dealing with serious crises. But we don’t.”
The BMWK, on the other hand, gives the all-clear: “Germany has one of the lowest rates of local power failures in the world because we have an extremely large number of safety nets. The whole system in Germany is planned in such a way that one line can always fail and electricity can still be transported.”