As a result of last weekend’s massive power blackout in Europe, the European Commission has adopted new rules to improve the flow of electricity across the continent.
The rules urge grid operators to improve cross-border cooperation to secure the flow of energy, manage bottlenecks in the transmission network and bring Europe’s multiple power grids closer to one big network functioning independently of national borders.
“The blackout last Saturday demonstrated how important proper management of the European electricity transmission network is,” Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in a statement. “These guidelines are a great step forward in the development of the internal energy market, and a positive example of improved cooperation between regulators.”
German company Eon has taken the blame for the power outage that left an estimated 10 million people in the dark in the late evening hours of Nov. 6.
The German energy giant said switching off one of its main cables – to let a ship pass – led to the collapse of the networks across Western Europe, with 30-minute to two-hour outages in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Observers have criticized what they say is an aging German power grid that could cause similar blackouts in the future if it isn’t updated. After the incident, politicians urged Germany’s energy companies to invest in their networks.
“We have known for a while that there are bottlenecks on the power grids and that the utilities have not ensured that the grids are being expanded,” German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said earlier this week. “The suppliers have to come up with investments. We have done everything to ease their way, but now they need to deliver on their promises.”
Eon has said the grid is in good condition, however, and the company is constantly investing in the electricity infrastructure.
Christoph Maurer, an expert at Aachen University’s Energy Research Institute, Friday told United Press International in a telephone interview that Germany’s power grid could not be blamed for the outage.
“What happened last weekend did not happen because of ailing grids,” he said. “The grids are in a very good condition, especially the high-voltage networks.”
Maurer acknowledged that Europe’s power networks, after the liberalization of Europe’s energy market – a move that enables Portugal to buy electricity from Ukraine – are at times overburdened by the ever-increasing flow of electricity across the entire continent.
“Due to the trans-national flow of power, which has increased starkly in recent years, the strains put on the networks are way above what could have been expected seven or eight years ago,” he said.
Apart from general bottleneck problems in times of high demand – like during periods of extremely high or low temperature – observers have questioned the grid’s ability to cope with the addition of renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, into the mix and the network.
Often, large wind parks that produce hundreds of megawatts of power in remote areas put a massive strain on local grids, which were designed to bring electricity from the center to the peripheries, and not the other way around.
Due to the wind’s variable strength, the amount of electricity injected into the grid is fluctuating constantly, further straining the grid.
The current networks, Maurer said, are not equipped to deal with much more power being injected from new wind energy parks. Europe runs roughly 70 percent of the world’s wind energy generators, with more parks – especially off-shore – to be installed in the coming years.
“We can’t put much more strains on our grids,” he said. “We need to expand the grids and we need to ensure that such is done (in a) timely (fashion).”
Denmark already produces a quarter of its electricity through wind, and in Germany, due to funding from the former government, companies have built over 18,000 megawatts of wind-powered generators, making the country one of the largest producers of power from wind energy in Europe.
Both countries have planned to cooperate more strongly over power transmission systems, as wind energy is putting strain on grids close to the countries’ immediate borders.
Such trans-national cooperation is what the EU eventually wants to achieve when it calls for a single energy market, but the body’s ultimate goal – a single electricity price for the entire continent – remains somewhat distant and “unrealistic,” Maurer said.
By Stefan Nicola
UPI Energy Correspondent
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