Europe was on the verge of blackout

Düsseldorf It almost got dark in Europe: On January 8, 2021, the power supply was about to blackout for an hour. A frequency deviation in the south-east of the Union has pushed the European network operators to their limits. The cause has not yet been clarified.

“Despite the problems in Romania, the power supply in Germany has been secure at all times,” emphasized Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) at the Handelsblatt Energy Summit, which has been taking place since Thursday.

However, he is still waiting for the report from the Federal Network Agency and the transmission system operators. The cause research is in full swing for them, but “no result is available yet,” said Jochen Homann, President of the Federal Network Agency, in an interview with the Handelsblatt on Friday.

It is the second large-scale near blackout in two years. In the summer of 2019 it was critical on three days. Back then, too, there was at times too little electricity in the German network to keep the necessary frequency of 50 Hertz constant. Both times, however, a total failure could be averted – if only just barely.

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“Last Friday, the frequency deviation was picked up again after an hour. The security of supply was never restricted, ”emphasized Hans-Jürgen Brick, head of the transmission network operator Amprion, on Friday at the Handelsblatt energy summit.

In order to get the network back on the right frequency, several countries had to be temporarily disconnected from the European network, reports the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”. Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey are usually connected to the continental European network via lines. Last week they had to go into “island operation” temporarily. In France and Italy, large consumers had to reduce their consumption in order to stabilize the rest of the network.

Interventions result in high costs

Thanks to excellent cooperation with the European partners, it was possible to react quickly to the problem, said Brick. For this reason, they see themselves well equipped for the future: “We are in the middle of converting the energy system, but we see ourselves in the best possible position,” said the Amprion boss.

The German power grid is facing the greatest challenge in decades. Instead of individual large power plants, more and more smaller eco-plants from all corners of the country are feeding energy into the grid. In contrast to the constant supply from coal, nuclear and gas power plants, there are natural fluctuations.

Green electricity is always produced when the wind blows and the sun shines. But these are not always the times when electricity is actually needed. So that the grid is not overloaded, power plants of any type are shut off from the grid whenever necessary. If more electricity is needed again, they can be restarted in seconds.

These interventions are regulated by the network operators. The costs for so-called feed-in management measures have continued to rise in recent years, also because of the increasing number of wind and solar systems.

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According to initial estimates, up to 1.34 billion euros should have been incurred in 2020. This applies above all to the payment of outage payments for operators of photovoltaic and wind power plants, who are granted compensation if their own plant is shut down despite the feed-in priority for green electricity.

According to media reports, in its as yet unpublished report, the Federal Network Agency assumes that the costs for the interventions and feed-in management have increased compared to 2019. At that time they were around 1.28 billion euros.

The consumer bears the costs with his electricity bill. The so-called network charges are settled via the electricity price, which at 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour made up around 25 percent of the total price last year.

With the phasing out of nuclear and coal-fired power generation and more and more volatile renewables, the challenges for network operators are likely to increase significantly in the coming years.

Storage as part of the solution

“I am nevertheless very optimistic that we can develop a secure and cost-efficient network structure as part of the energy transition,” believes Amprion boss Brick. Disconnectable loads are a helpful tool in this regard. Intelligent technologies and corresponding reserve power plants also played an important role in a secure power grid of the future.

Another means could be short-term and long-term storage systems that store the excess green electricity and feed it back in when required. In this way, shutdowns could be avoided more frequently. “We have a large surplus of renewables in distribution networks. With hydrogen, this excess could be stored and made available as a base load. These are topics that need to be discussed intensively, ”said Josef Hasler, CEO of the distribution network operator N-Ergie from Nuremberg, at the energy summit.

In principle, however, the Federal Network Agency Germany attests to a very high security of supply. According to the current monitoring report, the end consumers in the German low and medium voltage network had to get by on average for 12.20 minutes without electricity in 2019. According to the Bonn authority, this is the lowest downtime to date since the first publication in 2006.

More: “Abolish the EEG surcharge” – Altmaier announces relief in electricity prices.

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Altmaier announces abolition of the EEG surcharge

Berlin Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) has announced further reductions in electricity prices. “My goal is for us to gradually lower the EEG surcharge over the next five years and finally abolish it entirely,” said Altmaier on Thursday at the Handelsblatt Energy Summit. The acronym EEG stands for the Renewable Energy Sources Act, which was introduced 20 years ago to promote green electricity.

After months of struggle, the coalition passed a reform in December, but failed to clarify important points. A new expansion target for renewable energies by 2030 that meets the new EU climate targets is still open. The question of how much electricity Germany will probably need in 2030 is also open.

Encouragement for Altmaier’s plan to phase out the EEG funding comes from the energy sector: “The EEG has been incredibly successful with its 20-year history, but the system of the levy and levy system makes competitiveness difficult,” said Kerstin Andreae, Chair of the Federal Association of German Energy and Water Industries.

EnBW boss Frank Mastiaux is also expecting a lot from a further EEG reform: “The problems have been identified”, now it depends on the implementation, said the manager at the energy summit. Above all, the expansion of wind and solar systems must increase significantly, “otherwise we will not achieve our climate goals”.

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Green leader Annalena Baerbock, however, expressed skepticism. First of all, the competitive conditions for renewables would have to improve. This also includes a reasonable CO2 price. According to the plan, this should initially amount to 25 euros per ton from 2021 and gradually increase to 55 euros per ton by 2025. That is not enough for Baerbock, she calls for a significantly higher CO2 price and a climate neutrality pact between business and politics.

Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier and Greens boss Annalena Baerbock are something like regular guests at the annual Handelsblatt Energy Summit. The focus is on your messages – not least because the first black-green ocoalition at federal level could be initiated next autumn after the federal elections.

While the two politicians agree that ‧ those companies will be left behind that do not take the issue of climate neutrality so seriously, but they are far apart on other issues.

“If we electrify everything, not just the transport sector, but also industry, then of course we have a much higher power requirement than we currently have or it was the case five years ago,” said Baerbock at the Handelsblatt Energy Summit , which took place purely virtually this year due to the corona pandemic. “That is why the amounts of expansion that Mr. Altmaier has submitted are definitely not sufficient.” She accuses the Federal Minister of Economics of “calculating”.

With his announcement that the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) will expire in the foreseeable future, the CDU politician is likely to meet with a lot of approval from large parts of the economy and society. Because the EEG, which was introduced to promote electricity generation from renewable energy sources such as sun and wind and once made Germany a pioneer in the field of energy transition, has cost consumers and companies a three-digit billion sum over the years.

Thanks to government support, there were more wind turbines and solar systems in Germany for a long time than in any other country in the world. In the meantime, however, the former pioneer is more in the lower middle field than in the top positions in a global comparison.

The expansion of wind and solar power is only progressing slowly, while electricity costs continue to rise due to the EEG surcharge. With the new climate targets from Brussels, the costs of the energy transition should also go up even further. “We have to guarantee that energy is affordable, even if renewables become the main source of electricity and energy,” said Altmaier on Thursday.

Altmaier wants planning security

In 2020, the grand coalition decided in the economic stimulus package to cap the EEG surcharge for 2021 and 2022 via budget funds and the CO2 price for fossil fuels that has just been introduced in the building and transport sector, in order to ease the burden on electricity prices. Altmaier said at the energy summit that he would like to continue this relief in order to create planning security. “If someone makes investments as a medium-sized company, then he would like to know whether he can still pay for the electricity in ten years,” said the minister in a video link. “That’s why we need this clarity.”

When it comes to electricity prices for medium-sized companies, industry and households, Germany should “return to the means of the European convoy,” said Altmaier. “The acceptance of electricity prices is an important prerequisite for the energy transition and climate protection to succeed.”

Handelsblatt Energy Summit 2021

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (right) in conversation with Handelsblatt editor-in-chief Sebastian Matthes.

Altmaier received direct support for his initiative from the energy sector itself. “The EEG was designed to successfully implement a market ramp-up. Now we need a market-driven solution, ”said Stefan Dohler, head of the north German energy supplier EWE. The head of the Oldenburg company sees this in the so-called “Contract for Differences” (CfD) model, which is already being used in Great Britain and other countries. With the CfD system, the price is capped upwards and downwards. The operator is covered if the stock exchange prices fall below the limit, but the profits are also capped and transferred to the state if they are significantly higher.

In view of a similar discussion, the Federal Ministry of Economics had already shown itself to be rather critical of the model with regard to offshore wind power. Instead, Altmaier relies on direct purchase agreements between producers and consumers, so-called Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), which guarantee a fixed purchase price over several years.

Since the costs of solar and wind power have fallen massively, PPAs have been concluded more and more frequently, often without any additional remuneration from the state. “Yes, there has been fighting over the past few years between those who believed they could or should stop the train, those who argued for a reasonable pace, and those who weren’t fast enough,” said Altmaier. Now everyone would know that if you “don’t march ahead when converting to a fossil-free world, you will end up being caught up and rolled over”.

How much green electricity does Germany need?

However, there is still one point that the Minister of Economic Affairs cannot ignore: How much green electricity does Germany really need to achieve its climate targets by 2030 and beyond? Like the Greens leader Baerbock, a possible candidate for Chancellor of the Greens in the upcoming federal election, other experts also warn that the federal government is setting the required amount far too low.

Electric cars, heat pumps and also low-carbon industrial production will drive up the demand for electricity dramatically. EWI experts estimate gross electricity consumption in 2030 to be up to 748 terawatt hours (TWh). The federal government, on the other hand, has so far anticipated a significantly lower demand for electricity.

“We will solve that in the first quarter,” announced Altmaier. With around 45 percent, Germany has achieved the highest share of renewable electricity to date. Alternative energies would have a meaning that they had not previously had. Germany wants to become climate neutral by 2050. Altmaier committed to a 100 percent supply of Germany with wind, solar and co. The intermediate step is a share of 65 percent by 2030.

“I am convinced that we will have German electricity production climate-neutral by 2040,” said Altmaier. At the same time, he was convinced that the share of 65 percent renewable energies will not only be met by 2030, but will probably be exceeded. If the expansion continues so slowly, however, it will be difficult.

Green politician Baerbock therefore calls for “to pack a solar system on every roof”, that is, solar compulsory for new buildings. The public sector, according to Baerbock, could start right away so that “we can finally make progress with the expansion of renewable energies”.

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Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) also declared the 65 percent share of renewable energies by 2030 to be outdated at the Handelsblatt Energy Summit on Wednesday. The reason is the new EU climate target that the EU heads of government agreed on in December. Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU will probably have to fall by at least 55 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030. A final agreement between the Council of Ministers, the EU Parliament and the Commission is still pending. The previous plan was 40 percent.

What this means in concrete terms for Germany is still unclear. The EU climate target does not apply across the board to all member states, at least at the moment: As part of the burden sharing within the EU, each state receives its own target value, which is essentially based on the performance of the respective country. So far, Germany has had an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030.

Economy Minister Altmaier openly expressed himself in favor of an increase on Thursday. The “friends” of the CDU had spoken out in favor of an increase to 60 percent. “I expressly support that.” He sees momentum not only in the energy transition in Germany, but globally in protecting the climate. The new US administration under Joe Biden is “an opportunity for all of us”.

When asked about a possible black-green coalition after the federal election in autumn, Altmaier said he warned against assuming that the coalition partners had already been decided. Baer‧bock declared that she was fighting for a higher CO2 price, but not for black and green as an automatism. The Union, she said, was always lagging behind. “That’s why we Greens want to get into the lead position.”

More from the Handelsblatt Energy Summit: Whether the climate-neutral restructuring of the economy will succeed will be decided in the next ten years.

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China is increasingly decoupling from the global economy

Beijing, Berlin, Düsseldorf Mostly once a year, China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping gives a speech to high-ranking ministry and provincial leaders at the Central University of the Communist Party, which sets the course for the year. But this time it had a special meaning. Because the five-year plan is currently being finalized, which should set the course for the economy in the People’s Republic from March to 2025.

Foreign company representatives may not have liked what Xi said behind closed doors earlier this week. “The most essential feature of building a new development pattern is to achieve a high level of self-sufficiency and self-improvement,” says Xi. ”

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Corona aid Germany: economy frustrated by crisis policy

Closed café in Duisburg

Anyone who wants to apply for Corona aid ends up in bureaucratic chaos.

(Photo: fotofinder)

Berlin The emails speak of pure frustration. Like many of her colleagues, she works to “absolute exhaustion” to save businesses like the favorite pizzeria around the corner, writes a tax advisor. But politics make life difficult for her.

The federal government “secretly” changed the access conditions for corona aid in December, and many applications are now wrong. “This drives our profession crazy,” continues the financial expert and comes up with a harsh verdict: “Everything that is politically suggested, namely that all companies affected by the lockdown are helped quickly and unbureaucratically, is completely reduced to absurdity.”

The Handelsblatt editorial team has received many e-mails like this since the turn of the year. Entrepreneurs and tax consultants no longer only complain about the stagnant payment, but also about small but decisive changes in the conditions for application assistance, which change the amount of assistance or even completely exclude many companies from state support. There is chaos and perplexity that grow more and more into anger, so the tenor.

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Germany’s next corona vaccine still needs time


The Curevac vaccine will probably not be approved until the second quarter of this year.
Image: Reuters

The vaccine manufacturer in which Germany participated still needs time. Approval is planned for the second quarter of 2021. An interesting mind game is now circulating in Brussels.

AWhen the news arrived last June, expectations were high. Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) raved about the entry of the federal government into the Tübingen biotech company Curevac. The state participation should give Germany more independence in vaccine production. At that time, Curevac was one of the greatest hopes in the still young vaccine development against the coronavirus. The German government was nervous that there were talks between the company and the American government in the spring. When Curevac was about to go public on the American Nasdaq, everything went very quickly: the federal government bought 23 percent of the shares for 300 million euros.

Julia Löhr

Werner Mussler

But since then the balance has shifted and other companies have taken center stage. Above all the German vaccine developer Biontech, whose active ingredient has been in use since the end of December. With the vaccine from Moderna, which was approved this week, it will also be possible to vaccinate very soon. Astra-Zeneca’s application for approval is also only a matter of time, as the vaccine is already being administered in Great Britain. Curevac, on the other hand, is still in the third test phase. The company is hoping for approval in the second quarter of this year – and is counting on the expertise and infrastructure of its new cooperation partner Bayer to help make the Curevac vaccine candidate “available to many people even faster,” as CEO Franz-Werner Haas put it formulated. The cooperation with Bayer, which became known on Thursday, gave the share price a boost. Nevertheless, it is still a quarter below its high in early December.

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Coalition dispute over Corona: not immune to election campaign

ESome ministers will stay a little longer in the Chancellery on Wednesday morning after the weekly cabinet meeting: Health Minister Jens Spahn, Economics Minister Peter Altmaier and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. Chancellery chief Helge Braun stays anyway.

Heike Schmoll

Heike Schmoll

Political correspondent in Berlin, responsible for “Bildungswelten”.

After the debate in the coalition about the start of vaccinations against the coronavirus had become a tangible dispute at the start of the year, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) told the ministers that we had to talk. Merkel likes to bring those responsible to one table instead of hitting the same.

As was learned from government circles on Tuesday, there should not be general talk about the course of vaccinations so far. Rather, it should be specifically about how the production of vaccines can be accelerated. It’s about money and government funding, which is why the finance and economics ministers are there.

Even before vaccination began after Christmas, it was clear to those responsible in the federal and state governments that the vaccine would initially be scarce. So far, only the one from the German company Biontech, which works with the American company Pfizer, has been approved in Germany. Biontech and Pfizer have signed contracts with the EU and non-EU countries. The vaccine is complicated to produce and has to be stored at minus 70 degrees. Production can’t keep up with people’s yearning for protection from the virus.

As soon as it became known that the high-profile group – whose members are of course in exchange anyway – would meet in the Chancellery for a discussion about vaccine production, the Ministry of Health sent out an invitation to a press conference on Wednesday at 12.15 p.m. Minister Spahn will provide information on the “intermediate status of the vaccinations against the coronavirus”.

The announcement reveals that it will not just be about the production of the vaccine. Rather, expectations were dampened that too much could be said about the results of the previous meeting. But no matter what the connection between the second and the first event, Spahn can explain immediately after the meeting in the Chancellery why there is a problem with the vaccination at which point.

He will have to, because the SPD, as the responsible minister, is putting a lot of pressure on him because of the bumpy start of the vaccination – including and especially Scholz, who sent Spahn a catalog with questions about the vaccinations so far. If Merkel, Braun, Spahn and Altmaier have a CDU party book, Scholz is the only Social Democrat at the meeting on Wednesday.

There is now great anger in the Union over the daily attacks by the coalition partner. The question is already being asked in what capacity Scholz will be sitting at the table on Wednesday: as finance minister and vice chancellor or as a candidate for chancellor of the SPD for the autumn election.

In the Union camp, suspicions were countered that Merkel disempowered Spahn by bringing the ministers together to produce vaccines. In fact, leading Union politicians are trying to keep the debate objective and not turn it into a grand coalition dispute.

At Merkel’s meeting with the Prime Minister on Tuesday, it was decided, among other things, that the federal government would give the federal states reliable delivery times for the corona vaccine from Biontech / Pfizer. By the end of 2020, 1.3 million vaccine doses had been delivered to the countries, and by February 1 there should be almost 2.7 million more.

The dispute over vaccine and vaccinations superimposed the federal-state meeting on the pandemic on Tuesday. There were enough differences of opinion as it was. As late as Monday afternoon, most things seemed cleared up under the Prime Minister. It was agreed that the corona contact restrictions will be extended until January 31.

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Merkel wants to accelerate the production of vaccines

KThe Chancellor’s video conference with the Prime Minister had begun and the “Bild” reported a crisis summit on Wednesday for vaccination. Allegedly, the Chancellor wants to make vaccination a top priority and Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) to set up a working group. Up until now, Spahn was solely responsible for procuring vaccines.

Heike Schmoll

Political correspondent in Berlin, responsible for “Bildungswelten”.

But what the “Bild” described as a crisis summit for vaccinating and disempowering the health minister appears to be less dramatic on closer inspection. It’s not about getting the vaccine, it’s all about production.

On Wednesday after the cabinet meeting, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU), Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD), Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) and Chancellery chief Helge Braun (CDU) will meet in the Chancellery to accelerate vaccine production. After that, the Minister of Health will appear before the press. It is clear that the Chancellor is trying to respond to the clear criticism of the coalition partner.

Restriction of freedom of movement?

Meanwhile, the federal and state governments are arguing about tightening the currently applicable lockdown. It is agreed that it will be extended until the end of January. After a conversation with virologists and experts, the Federal Chancellery made a proposal that required discussion.

The proposal envisages restricting the radius of movement to a radius of 15 kilometers, as in Saxony, but also in neighboring European countries. Shopping, traveling and day trips beyond this radius would then have to be avoided.

While the Chancellery already called for this tightening with an incidence of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, the draft resolution speaks of an incidence of 200 new infections. Private contacts are also further restricted. Private get-togethers are only permitted alone, with another person who does not live in the household or with members of their own household. It says so in the draft resolution.

Schools would also be tightened. In the period up to the beginning of February, compulsory attendance at schools should also be suspended and daycare centers should remain closed if possible. Special treatment of the graduating classes should remain unaffected. Only in regions with a favorable development (incidence well below 100) could daycare centers and primary schools be opened with alternating lessons, according to the draft resolution.

In addition, old people’s and nursing homes should be particularly valued. They should be particularly secured by rapid tests. For this, the federal and state governments need more volunteers who can test.

Federal financial aid programs are planned for all restriction measures, this also applies to parents who have to look after their children at home.

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Consumption: Altmaier wants aid program for inner cities – economy

In the Corona crisis in particular, more and more people are buying online instead of strolling through the pedestrian zones. That puts the trade there in trouble – Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) now wants to take countermeasures and make shopping in the inner cities more attractive again. “That will then also mean that the shops will participate more in digitization and that we will interlink culture and business even more. It will mean that we will bring interesting offers beyond shopping into the city centers,” Altmaier told the German press agency .

The Minister of Economic Affairs is planning an aid program for this, because “none of this will work without public support”. He wants to help the city centers to get fit for the future. “I advocate a noticeably effective aid program to modernize inner cities in the spring, when it becomes apparent that the danger of a new lockdown has been averted.”

The retail trade in the city centers was thrown back again by the second lockdown, said Altmaier. “Many small and medium-sized retailers from shoe stores to fashion stores are under enormous pressure.” On the one hand there are the shopping centers on the green field, on the other hand digitization and the large Internet platforms, which now have the chance to expand their business model once again thanks to the lockdown.

“The situation is really very serious”

The lockdown is also worrying retailers, and the corona-related shop closings are not expected to end quickly in Germany. “I’m afraid that the stores will not be allowed to reopen on January 10th. Because the goal of reducing the 7-day incidence nationwide to below 50 will probably not be achieved by then,” said the general manager of the German Trade Association (HDE), Stefan Genth, the dpa. “The situation is really very serious.”

A wave of retail bankruptcies looming over the next few months, Genth warned. Many trading companies that were affected by the double lockdown had largely consumed their equity and now needed economic support. Otherwise the end “for up to 50,000 transactions” threatens. Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz is always announcing billions in aid, but the aid is not actually being paid out because the barriers to access are far too high.

Second mainstay in the network

The primary goal must be to reopen the stores as soon as this is possible from the virologists’ point of view and then to keep them open. “We can’t wiggle our way from one lockdown to the next. Many thousands of retailers, especially fashion houses, won’t survive that,” said Genth.

Until then, the trade association will also increasingly rely on digital shopping. “Many retailers are currently trying to build up a second line of business on the Internet, but that is extremely difficult,” Genth emphasized. The greatest difficulty for a retailer is to be found on the Internet – especially when competing with large providers. Another big problem is the tough price competition on the Internet.

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