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.
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.