Tiesler told the “Welt am Sonntag”: “We have to assume that there will be blackouts in winter.” By that he means a regional and temporary interruption in the power supply, the head of the authority emphasized.
The cause is then not only energy shortages, but also the “specific, temporary shutdown of the grids” by the operators in order to protect the grids and not endanger the overall supply. The risk of this increases from January and February, said the civil protection officer. From then on, there could be interruptions in the power supply “in places for a certain period of time”.
The Greens contradicted the warning of the top civil protection officer. “In the event that there are temporary power outages in the region, we have to prepare accordingly,” said the first parliamentary director of the Greens parliamentary group, Irene Mihalic, to the Handelsblatt. “At the same time, in view of the forecasts by the Federal Network Agency, which does not assume forced shutdowns in winter, it is important not to stir up panic.”
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The network agency countered the BBK’s assessments by pointing out that Germany has one of the world’s most reliable power supply systems. “There are numerous mechanisms and reserves for stabilizing the power grid in tense situations,” said a spokesman for the network agency to the newspapers of the Funke media group. However, the general manager of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, Gerd Landsberg, also considers regional power cuts in winter to be conceivable.
Power failures are not uncommon in Germany
“The situation described by the Federal Office is not the partial blackout with a widespread, permanent power failure, but only the correct indication that in the event of an energy shortage to stabilize the network, the power supply must be temporarily switched off or limited regionally and for a limited period of time,” Landsberg told the Handelsblatt .
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Power failures are not uncommon in Germany. According to the Federal Network Agency, they even increased nationwide in 2020. However, the consequences were manageable. In terms of individual customers, the blackouts meant no electricity for an average of 10.73 minutes, mind you, for the whole year. This was the lowest downtime since the agency first surveyed it in 2006.
Experts, such as the head of the Institute for Energy Systems at the TU Dortmund, Christian Rehtanz, tend not to believe that there is a greater risk of power failure this year than usual. “The electricity system is secured at peak times by gas-fired power plants in order to cover the required output,” said Rehtanz. “Due to the immense importance of the electricity sector, everything will be done to keep it running.”
In fact, the federal government has taken precautions. The running times of coal and nuclear power plants have been extended in order to reduce the use of gas to generate electricity and to channel larger amounts into storage. The reservoirs are now almost 100 percent full.
In addition, there is probably favorable weather conditions. Model calculations by the German Weather Service (DWD) expect comparatively mild temperatures for the months of December, January and February. If so, heating energy could be saved. The President of the Federal Network Agency, Klaus Müller, still sees a residual risk. There is a good starting position thanks to full gas storage, said Müller. But even a few cold days could be enough for consumption to increase and storage tanks to be emptied quickly.
Municipalities are calling for a realignment of civil disaster control
That could make the scenario outlined by BBK President Tiesler more likely, that there will be controlled, time-limited power cuts. In the case of such so-called brownouts, the transmission system operators take individual large consumers or regions off the grid by the hour. This can happen in the early evening when it is very cold, when household electricity consumption increases sharply, explained electricity market expert Fabian Huneke from the consulting firm Energy Brainpool.
In this context, Tiesler criticized the fact that government agencies were not always adequately prepared for crisis situations such as power failures. Some of the municipalities and authorities are “really exemplary”, with precise plans and ensuring the power supply through emergency generators on site. “Others are in a much worse position, they are not sufficiently prepared.”
Against this background, the head of the municipality of Landsberg called for a realignment and modernization of civil disaster control. “We need a pact between the federal, state and local governments for the sustainable improvement of civil protection and the adjustment to new dangerous situations,” he said. “Not least the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley has shown that we need to modernize and strengthen civil protection.”
From Landsberg’s point of view, this includes better provision, for example through emergency power generators, a national emergency power reserve and the provision of essential medicines. The population is also required and should have a certain amount of water and food as well as battery-powered means of communication.
Landsberg emphasized: “It’s not about scaremongering, but about the necessary consequences of the last catastrophes and also about the awareness that the political turnaround unfortunately also includes preparing for possible crisis situations.”
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