European power grid disturbance has German energy industry worried

A disturbance in the synchronised European high-voltage power grid on Friday, 8 January 2021, which resulted in a separation of European grid regions, led the German Association of the Industrial Energy and Power Industry (VIK) to warn “not to lose sight of the issue of grid stability and security of supply.” Germany could not assume that it would somehow be supplied from other European countries if there was not enough electricity here,” VIK managing director Christian Seyfert said in a press release. Their worries were echoed by Austrian utility EVN, whose spokesperson said that Austria needed “fast-starting gas power plants” so that it could ensure secure power supply without depending on coal and nuclear power plants in neighbouring countries. “I can understand the industry’s concern, but I would not see the disturbance last week as too dramatic. The incident has clearly shown that the existing processes for stabilisation have worked very well,” Hendrik Neumann, Chief Technical Officer at transmission grid operator Amprion told Clean Energy Wire.

The incident on Friday, which cut Europe’s power grid into a south-eastern and a north-western part for about an hour has been described as one of the most critical near-blackout situations since the region’s last major blackout in 2006. It happened after a sudden drop in frequency of around 0.25 Hertz (Hz) (the grid frequency has to remain stable at 50 Hz with only the slightest deviations permitted) in south-eastern Europe. As a result, the synchronised European grid was split into two separate “islands” and grid operators had to initiate contracted load shedding in Italy and France to keep transmission intact. In some regions, sensitive machinery automatically stopped working, according to media reports. It remains unclear what the exact reasons for this were, with flaws in grid connections in South East Europe being named as possible culprits. European grid regulator ENTSO.E said “the immediate response taken by the Continental European Transmission System Operators ensured that the system stability was not affected in most European countries.”

According to its nuclear and coal exit plans, Germany will shut more and more conventional power stations in the coming years. More renewable power generation, more and improved grid connections and modern technology are to substitute both the electric capacity and system stability services formerly provided by coal and nuclear plants. Some industry representatives warn that this will not be achievable in the short to medium term and argue that additional gas fired plants will be necessary to ensure a smoothly running power system.