Switzerland’s power grid operator, Swissgrid, seems to have its hands full nowadays.
Just less than 10 years ago, Switzerland’s power grid was among the most stable worldwide, operating with the same efficiency as its famous Swiss-made watches.
Today however, thanks to green energies like wind and sun, this is no longer the case, so reports the country’s Baseler Allgemeine Zeitung (BAZ).
According to the BAZ, “In 2011 Swissgrid, the operator of the Swiss electricity grid, only intervened twice in the electricity grid to prevent major problems.”
But last year, in order to keep the power supply stable, “these interventions reached a new record number with 382 interventions.”
In other words, on average more than once a day. Hence the article by the BAZ is titled: “The power grid is fluctuating like never before.”
Stabilizing the Swiss grid can mean throttling one or more of its dozen power plants, says the BAZ. Power fluctuations in the grid not only heighten the risk of overload and blackouts, but also threaten sensitive production equipment which rely on a steady supply of power for critical process control.
The BAZ adds that the problem is not only getting worse in Switzerland, but also in all the grids in neighboring countries, such Germany, France, Austria and Italy.
What’s the reason for all the instability? The BAZ reports:
With more and more electricity from the sun and wind, whose production depends on the weather changing at short notice, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure an even supply. The production of these renewable electricity producers is much higher than consumption in wind and sunshine, but too low at night and when there is no wind.”
The BAZ also notes that Switzerland is sorely lacking in energy storage systems to balance out the peaks that are seen in sun and wind power production.
“Customers bearing the costs”
The Swiss daily also writes that the country’s power grid at times is so unstable that on July 2 (2018) alone, Swissgrid “had to throttle power plants eight times or have them started up so that grid operation was not endangered.”
In Switzerland, whenever a power plant is asked to throttle its power production in order to keep the green-energy-flooded grid stable, it is entitled to financial compensation. No problem here: The power consumers pick up the tab, reports the BAZ.
When asked why the grid has become increasingly unstable with each passing year, Swissgrid replied that it was “due to sun and wind energy”, the BAZ reports.
Europe dodged a bullet two weeks ago
Not only the Swiss power grid has been rickety and unstable, but so has the entire European grid, writes the BAZ. An example of this occurred recently, Swissgrid here reported in a press release:
A drop in frequency on the synchronously interconnected Continental Europe system was registered on 10 January 2019 at around 21.00.
The causes of this drop are still under investigation by the transmission system operators (TSOs) of ENTSO-E Regional Group Continental Europe.
A mismeasurement on lines between Germany and Austria was identified and corrected by TenneT Germany. However, this mismeasurement cannot explain the entire frequency drop on 10 January. The investigation, which is still on-going, is reviewing the significant variation in European production around 21.00 which coincided with changes in trade between different countries.
The frequency drop was sufficient to alert the TSOs but did not at any moment endanger security of supply.
TSOs of ENTSO-E Continental Europe Regional Group are taking collective actions to restore frequency as foreseen in such cases and continue their technical analysis of the incident.”
Next time Europeans may not be so lucky.
Unfortunately it may just take a widespread blackout to get European leaders back to their senses. But even then, don’t count on it. Some policymakers are in fact insisting that the grid instability problems can be solved by “adding more wind and solar power.”