Germany Faces Energy Disaster Next Winter

  • Date: 11/05/12

Last winter, on several occasions, Germany escaped only just large-scale power outages. Next winter the risk of large blackouts is even greater. The culprit for the looming crisis is the single most important instrument of German energy policy: the “Renewable Energy Law.”

The dramatic tone of the report by the Federal Network Agency (FNA) on the near-blackouts last winter is hard to overestimate: although the cold spell was short and mild, the situation in the German electricity network was “very serious” according to the Agency.

Several times, the pre-ordered reserve power plants in Austria and Germany were fully utilized. On several occassions, the network operators were not even able to mobilize additionally needed emergency reserves abroad. The number of short-term emergency interventions in network and power plant operating shot up by more than 30,000 percentage points on some network portions.

“Had a failure of a large power plant taken place in this situation, there would have been hardly any room for maneuver available.” This quote from the FNA report is translation for “We narrowly escaped a catastrophe.”

There is no reason for a sigh of relief, however: Next winter, which will possibly be even more severe, everything could get much worse, officials warn. Because then even less base-load gas- and coal-fired power plants will be available to reliably compensate for wind lulls and the almost complete absence of solar power for months.

Disastrous side effects

The culprit for the looming crisis is the single most important instrument of German energy policy: the “Renewable Energy Law” (EEG). It stipulates the priority of green electricity supply. What was once useful as an aid for the market introduction of wind and solar power, has today, 12 years later, disastrous side effects.

It pushes those plants which alone can guarantee a stable power supply, i.e. gas- and coal-fired power plants, out of the market far too early. More and more facilities are being decommissioned. The result is a significantly higher risk of large-scale power outages, so-called blackouts, whose duration and propagation is hard to predict.

The economic cost of a wide-scale blackout are measured in billions of Euros per day. If power outages last longer, one has to expect a high number of deaths. The most important test of energy policy is now the stability of power – so far only the cost of the green energy transition has been focused upon.

Because the federal government does not have the guts to start an overdue and fundamental debate about the usefulness of a 12-year-old, now totally outdated, “launch aid” called EEG, it now threatens to over-steer, with the green energy transition ending up in a crash. Fasten your seat belts.

Translation Philipp Mueller

Die Welt, 10 May 2012