This winter is delivering wind and solar obsessed Europeans a banquet of consequences. Massive power price spikes in ‘wind powered’ Britain followed a period of dead calm, as the owners of Britain’s remaining dispatchable power plants cashed in: the wholesale price went from £40 to £4,000 per MWh.
Across the ditch, a complete collapse in wind and solar output on 8 January forced Europe’s grid managers to cut power to big users in France, Germany and Austria in order to avoid a complete ‘system black’. It was, like Napoleon’s Waterloo, “a close-run thing”.
The number of similar “emergency operations” has increased from a dozen or so each year to over 240, thanks to chaotically intermittent wind and solar.
None of this was on the radar when Germany was content to rely upon its ever-reliable nuclear and coal-fired power plants. As they say, you reap what you sow.
Here’s Henrik Paulitz and Kalte Sonne with an in-depth analysis of Europe’s renewable energy debacle.
8 January 2021: Europe just skirted blackout disaster
Global Warming Policy Forum
Henrik Paulitz and Kalte Sonne
17 January 2021
On 8 January 2021, the European electricity grid only just missed a large-scale collapse. Around 13:04 p.m. there was a sharp drop in frequency that could have paralysed Europe.
The cause was apparently a power failure in Romania. According to the Austrian blackout expert Herbert Saurugg, it was the second most serious major incident in the European network to date. According to the ENTSO-E classification, the third of four warning levels was achieved (Emergency – Deteriorated situation, including a network split at a large scale. Higher risk for neighboring systems. Security principles are not fulfilled. Global security is endangered).
The Lower Austrian electricity supplier EVN spoke of an “almost blackout”. Some major customers had contacted them, “because sensitive machines have already felt the frequency drop,” said EVN spokesman Stefan Zach to the Austrian broadcasting company ORF. “If the fluctuations are too high, machines switch themselves off to protect themselves.” According to Zach, this can also happen at power plants, “and then it becomes critical”.
The event is discussed intensively in the Austrian media. Numerous power plants had to immediately supply additional energy to stabilise the grid.
Pumped storage power plants and the gas-fired power plants still available had to be mobilised. “The latter, however, are massively fought against by environmentalists,” noted the Kronen Zeitung pointedly. In France, despite the rescue operation from Austria, large electricity customers had to be disconnected from the grid.
The safety net worked, “but such fire-fighting operations are not a viable long-term business model,” warned Wien Energie managing director Michael Strebl. “Thank God it went well again,” said Werner Hengst, Managing Director of Netz Niederösterreich GmbH. “We estimate that the situation will get worse in the next few years.”
The reason is the strong expansion of volatile renewable electricity generation and the elimination of large backup power plants in Europe. The output of 50 gigawatts going offline in Europe corresponds to “more than two hundred Danube power plants”. According to Wien Energie, the electricity grids are exposed to ever greater fluctuations. The number of emergency operations has increased from around 15 to up to 240 per year in recent years.
There are now calls for a “round table” in the Austrian electricity sector. At the meeting of all stakeholders, pragmatic solutions for a blackout precaution should be found, said NÖ-Netz managing director Werner Hengst at an online background discussion of the security of supply forum. “We need stable networks in order to be able to guarantee security of supply.”
In Germany, the Association of Industrial Energy and Power Industries (VIK) reacted with concern to the near-European blackout. “The incident on Friday is unfortunately not the first of its kind, but it must be a warning to all of us not to lose sight of the issues of network stability and security of supply. Germany cannot assume that we are somehow being supplied from other European countries if we do not have enough electricity, ”says VIK managing director Christian Seyfert.
As a result of the “phasing out of nuclear energy and coal power”, a considerable amount of secured output will be shut down “without replacement” in Germany in the coming years, according to Seyfert. Regionally and throughout Germany, this leads to considerable challenges in terms of security of supply, to which political answers must also be found.
The “principle of hope” is not enough. An inexpensive, climate-friendly, but also safe power supply is a decisive location factor, especially for industrial companies that are in international competition. If it is doubtful, it will harm Germany as an industrial location, says Seyfert.
The VIK points out that there was an electricity bottleneck “at the same time” as the near blackout in France because 13 nuclear power plant units are not connected to the grid. “There are no power interruptions”, the French transmission network operator RTE assured days ago, but at the same time appealed to the French population to save electricity: the lights should stay off between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., washing machines should not run and unused internet access should be cut off. Whoever leaves the house should turn the heating down to 17 degrees.
Many French media raise the question of whether the country is threatened with a blackout if the cold spell continues. “We’re not in the Soviet Union, are we?”, a journalist from the BFM television station asked Environment Minister Barbara Pompili. Her answer only reassured the audience to a limited extent: “If we stay at average temperatures, it should work. Otherwise we have to regulate. “
As a last resort, the French electricity company EDF provides for local power interruptions of “two hours maximum”. This would have the same effect for those affected at the moment as a general network collapse, but according to the Frankfurter Rundschau, Pompili asserts: “We mustn’t scare the French, there will be no blackout.” The danger has not yet been averted: Forward RTE had already predicted a “difficult February” for weeks.
The events show that the issue of security of supply is now entering the European political agenda with force. A power shortage economy threatens not only Germany, but all of Europe , in which power cuts are becoming more and more the norm and large-scale power outages can occur at any time.
Global Warming Policy Forum
4 thoughts on “European Emergency: Chaotic Wind & Solar Collapses Threaten Entire Europe-Wide Blackout”
The first public revelations admitting something had gone wrong came from Romania, where the transmission line trips caused blackouts in the NW of the country because they got cut off from supply. These were reported here:
Here is ENTSO-E’s latest version of events:
ENTSO-E’s version of events starts with a busbar failure in Croatia leading to neighbouring transmission lines being overloaded and tripping out, culminating in some 6.3GW of supply from SE Europe to NW Europe being cut off. The supply surplus in the SE led to a 50.6Hz overfrequency before emergency shutdowns of power stations could act. In the NW, the poor performance of renewables in low wind, low sun cold conditions meant that dispatchable coal gas and nuclear and hydro was already close to maxed out. The availability of spinning reserve was very limited, and demand reductions were enforced. The frequency excursion was more limited, in part because there was limited renewables generation.
I have been going over the ENTSO-E data on generation and power flows and demand. I think they have not fully owned up to the extent of the problems this caused, with massive rejigging of power flows across Europe, and evidence that cuts (perhaps under interruptible contracts in some cases) were more widespread than they admit. It is clear that the system was strained ahead of the actual incident. Capacity crunches, and dependence on long haul transmission are high risk for grids.
It was Wellington who said,…….”it was a close run thing”, after the battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was too busy running.
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